Hard to believe, but our final run day was here! Kebba and Pa Modou picked me up at Leybato in the morning to drive the short distance to our starting point in Westfield. There we were met by our police escort, Spider and his wife Jane, the staff of the Nova Scotia Gambia Association’s local office and a TV and radio crew. And here I thought I had received the rock star treatment yesterday, but today was even more exciting.
The mood was excited and celebratory from the beginning. We only had the short distance of 13 kilometers to cover to reach Banjul and the Atlantic. We took off with the police motor bike in front, then our group of runners consisting of the team and NSGA staff and friends, followed by the support vehicle and a few other cars piled full of excited staff members. Team Love4Gambia was an entire convoy today! And what’s more, runners from around the world were joining us for the last few miles, running in their respective countries at the same time as we covered the last stretch to the Atlantic. Marc had organized this via Facebook, making our Love4Gambia finale an international event attended by people in Australia, the UK, United States, Canada, South Africa and elsewhere around the globe.
My nausea was forgotten in all the excitement and we took off at a blistering pace (relatively speaking, of course!). We waved and shouted at people on the side of the road and in their vehicles and we sang and chanted as we ran. What an incredible feeling. But after a few kilometres, the pace I had set in my excitement proved to be a little too rich for some of the runners and we settled into an easier gear. This also allowed us to enjoy the final stretch for longer. The TV crew was in a vehicle just ahead of us, filming us as we ran along.
It is hard to put into words the emotions I was feeling. This run had become so much more than “just” a fundraiser. Strong bonds had formed between members of our incredible team that can only be forged by shared experiences of the magnitude we had lived for the past two weeks. Connections had been built with individuals and communities across the country. The support and friendship extended from good friends at home and abroad and the unwavering dedication of my partner Marc showed me how blessed I am to have such amazing people in my life. The generosity of sponsors like Mizuno Canada, which provided all my shoes and running apparel; Lambert Cycles, which provided me with a Garmin; and Aerobics First, which made the sponsor contacts for me, was overwhelming, as was that of the many donors who contributed to ensuring the life-saving programs of the NSGA will go on. The heart-felt thanks and warm hospitality of the Gambian people will never be forgotten. And most of all, the broad smiles and excited shouts of the children will stay forever with me.
We stopped on the Denton Bridge to take some photos, causing a traffic jam and violating the “no stopping on bridge” rule of the road. Soon after, we reached the arc to the main road of the capital. We stopped again for more photos and peer health educators from the school located there came out to say hello. As we ran down the broad street, a woman came up to say hi and when she heard what we had done, she shook my hand and told me she would forever consider me a friend. We left the main road and made our way through some narrow street and then around a corner, there it was – the Atlantic Ocean.
The other runners had fallen behind to let the four members of our team see it first. We joined hands and ran out to the beach, where we paused and spontaneously fell into each others’ arms in a long and emotional group hug, our foreheads touching. We said a few private words to each other and then we joined hands and ran into the Atlantic together. We had done it! Team Love4Gambia had completed its incredible journey.
When we had our fill of splashing around, Spider hoisted me on his shoulders and so we walked out of the water. The TV and radio crews were standing by to interview us. We celebrated our success on the beach with all those who had joined us today. Yet, while the team was elated, we also all felt a twinge of sadness that our adventure was finished and that we wouldn’t be on the road tomorrow to see what the day would bring.
The next day, there was no alarm clock to wake me up. I slept in and then went for a leisurely breakfast on the beach instead of eating a sandwich in the car. Then I went for a massage. Here, the RMT does not have to pop a CD with the sound of the waves and birds into the stereo system, but these sounds drift in through the open door from the beach outside.
After lunch, we had a meeting at the office of the Nova Scotia – Gambia Association. The entire team was there and one after the other expressed their appreciation for the team’s efforts. Their comments were touching and Kebba in particular almost made me cry. Everyone in this office had contributed to making our voyage across the country a success. The passion and commitment to development issues as well as to the youth of the Gambia was clearly evident from each and every member of this group of dedicated employees. Their vision to grow Love4Gambia into an international ultra marathon also shone through loud and clear. If you think you might like to live this adventure yourself, either in its entirety or as part of a relay team, please get in touch with us through this web site. I guarantee you that you will take far more from the experience than you will ever be able to give!
I now have a couple of days to enjoy the Smiling Coast of Africa as a tourist. On the agenda for tomorrow is a visit to the reptile centre (I am a bit of a reptile fan) and to the market in Serrekunda (yes, and I am a shopaholic, too).
By tomorrow, I hope to receive a tally of how much money has been raised through Love4Gambia to date. Stay tuned for this update and please note it is not too late to give through this web site by clicking on the Donate Now button. A sincere thank you to all those who have so generously contributed already. I have seen the need in the Gambia and I have also witnessed the impact the NSGA has here. We get young people talking about important issues concerning their health that are considered taboo topics by their elders. Young people do not learn about sexual reproductive health, sexually transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancies, the right to say “no” and other important issues from their parents or teachers. They are often also unaware of how diseases like malaria or water-borne diseases are transmitted and can be prevented. The NSGA talks about these important topics and then gets youth to share what they learn with others. In doing so, these young people also learn important life skills, such as organizing workshops, teaching, leadership skills and more. You can ensure that this important work continues.
Stay tuned for more updates from the Smiling Coast!