My July 3 departure for The Gambia is quickly approaching and my mind has been racing, thinking about the challenging physical feat I have ahead of me. I’m not worried about actually completing the 430km running expedition, I know that I’m fit enough to do it. I’ve been thinking most about how I’m going to feel mentally and spiritually while trying to complete it. The mental challenge is the greater unknown.
Lots of people have been asking me if I am nervous and these kind people here in Nova Scotia have been giving me the same advice when I admit to being nervous about mentally holding it together for 17 half marathons in 40 degree heat. They all say, “Think about the people you are helping; the kids; the people who have HIV and would love to feel that blister on your foot” etc. This is nice and helpful because it’s nice. But if you’ve ever been in a long running race, you know that your brain can be a wild animal, not so easily tamed into focus by pre-planned imagery. There are no mental focus guarantees.
But I do have one guarantee: my support team.
I will be surrounded by the best possible support team a girl could ask for. They will become unbelievably important to me at 5:30am on day 12 when it’s 41 degrees, I’ve run 300km already, my legs hurt everywhere and I don’t want to. They will see that I continue. They will feed me. They will mix my Gatorade and water me. They will find my tired body a place to sleep each night. They will photograph me for you at home. They’ll help me if I’m suffering and feeling low. They will patch me up, drug me up and put my pink shoes back on my feet so I can run another day.
They will be so important to me that I think it’s important that you know who they are:
Pa Modou Sarr is our logistics man. We met in 2007 when I was volunteering with the NSGA in The Gambia. He has several critical roles. Most notably, he’s in charge of our lodging and our food and water. He’s also bringing along the NSGA office’s photography equipment and will lead this part of the expedition.
Momodou M. Sarr, aka Pa Modou, was born on October 1, 1982, in The Gambia. Pa Modou’s parents were teachers and he went to several different primary schools as his parents transferred to different schools. Pa Modou graduated from Essau Senior School on the north bank of the Gambian River, just past the ferry port town of Barra, in the Lower Niumi District.
At the University of The Gambia, he studied computer studies (IT, certificate and diploma) and also holds a certificate in journalism. Pa Modou is a trained media personnel in radio, audio and video production. He has worked with the NSGA in The Gambia since 2003 holding many positions from drama trouper, associate coordinator to assistant coordinator, trainer and media assistant.
Pa says that it’s been very exciting imagining the run happening and that he “just can’t wait to see it all on.” Aside from the excellent logistical support that I’ll get from Pa Modou, I’m so lucky that he is an athlete. As I wrote here, I’ll be running 25km in 2 runs each day: a 20km run and a 5km run. Pa Modou has offered to run the second 5km with me every day. This is awesome. I’ve done 25km in 2 runs in training a few times. The second 5km is physically easy, it’s just 5km. However my brain usually doesn’t want to begin running again. Having Pa next to me should make starting again easier.
Pa Modou was pleased to be officially introduced as a support team member for expedition and wrote: “Love4Gambia Run!!! YES WE CAN!“
Kebba was born on March 25, 1966 in town call Bwiam in the western region of The Gambia. He went to school from 1976 to 1986 in this same town. We will run through Bwiam on day 14 & 15.
Kebba writes that he and his wife Jai are blessed with three sons. His eldest, Lamin is 15 year old. Saikouba, the middle boy is 13 years old and the youngest, Sheikh is 11 years old. Kebba and Jai live in Brikama, 30 km from the NSGA office. All 3 boys attend school in Bwiam where they stay with Kebba’s mother. The boys come home to Brikama every weekend and for holiday.
Kebba works with NSGA as a driver. He loves running and playing chess. Kebba has been training since November to join me for portions of my 20km run every day. This is going to be an incredible help to me.
While writing this blog post, my online conversation with Kebba was supposed to be all about him. Yet, he still squeezed in a “We proud of you, Erin,” like he always does. In that lovely statement, you see what kind of man Kebba is.
See more of Kebba here, in a new video from Gambia.
The last member of my 3-person team is my girl Ashley Sharpe. Ashley and I volunteered together in The Gambia in 2007 and holidayed together in Senegal when our work was done. This volunteer experience was a really important part of both of our lives and we’ve remained friends since. Ashley is an emergency room nurse and she’ll be my medical support.
Ashley grew up on the rural Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia, in the community of Moser River. She is an adventurous soul and just returned from the North West Territories where she was working to make some extra cash because neither of us are getting paid for the month of July. Ashley loves to travel and loves nursing overseas and plans to volunteer with Nurses Without Borders in the future. She says this desire stemmed from our summer in The Gambia.
In 2007, she became “Miss Ashley” to Gambian students and says she saw firsthand the difference NSGA makes. She has worked with the NSGA from that point on, serving as volunteer coordinator for the past two years and board of director since January. Ashley says that she fell in love with West Africa when she was there, and never felt ready to come home. She’s been waiting for 4 years for an opportunity go back and see the smiling faces she left behind in 2007. This is her chance.
International travelers can encounter numerous medical issues and then there’s a host of problems that can occur during distance running. Combine these, and factor in extreme heat and humidity, and you see how critical medical support is for this running expedition. I’m in the best hands possible with Ashley.
My sports dietitian Janna Mackay has developed a comprehensive nutrition plan for me: this much fluid, this much carb, this much protein during each part of my day: 20km run, 2 hour recovery, 5km run, 2 hour recovery, rest of day. I’ve put this plan into Ashley’s competent hands and know that she, Pa Modou and Kebba will force this food and fluid into me, whether I like Gatorade or not after litre #65!
I’ll be relying on Ashley for more than keeping me hydrated and making sure I don’t get sick and die. She’s my friend. She’ll be my emotional support.
So folks, that’s the team that will deliver me safely home, 430km to Banjul. Have some words of support for them? Please take a moment to share them!