For the past three years, I've run the Chicago Marathon to help raise money for clean water in Kenya on behalf of World Vision. Last year, in the midst of my third marathon, I hit a wall—the one runners talk about around mile 20—where every fiber of my being cried out to stop and never do such a stupid thing again. I hate this so much; why am I doing this; I'm in so much pain … and so my thoughts spun for the next five miles. During that breakdown, one thought crystallized: I need to see with my own eyes where all this marathon running and fundraising leads.
Late last year, I asked Michael Chitwood, national director of Team World Vision (TWV), if he could help me on my quest to follow the money from my fundraising page to the field to see what difference running a marathon to raise money for clean water makes.
"Come to Africa, and I'll show you," he said.
Following the Money
So this past June, I boarded a plane for Durban, South Africa, with a team of 13 TWV runners for the first leg of our "follow-the-money" tour. This group of athletes I was traveling with was registered to run Comrades, the world's oldest, largest ultra-marathon—a daunting 54-mile uphill/downhill course depending on which year you run it. This was an "up" year, which meant runners would head out of Durban toward Pietermaritzburg, climbing through the South African countryside the entire way. Each TWV Comrades runner inspired hundreds of people back home to donate to the same clean water projects we had raised money for at the Chicago Marathon. All together, this little band of 13 hard-core runners raised more than $200,000, a record fundraising amount up to that point for a single TWV event.
Wendy Ploegstra, one of the runners I followed, says she decided to run Comrades both as a personal challenge (she has run 18 marathons since high school, and Comrades would push her to a new level), and because it provided a way for her to blend her passion for running with bringing water to people caught in a cycle of poverty (read more about Wendy's reasons for running in TCW article "How Far Would You Go").
After a day of recuperating from the aches and pains Ploegstra and her teammates earned from running Comrades, our group boarded a plane for Nairobi, Kenya. We then loaded into vans and made a six-hour trek into the Great Rift Valley, a beautiful but isolated region where roads are often impassable, and essentials of life are hard to come by.