Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Different Kind of Ultramarathon

In the mid-1980s, Valentino Achak Deng and thousands of other refugees set out from their homes in southern Sudan to refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya.  Over the course of months they walked, mostly barefoot, with little if any clothing, for hundreds of miles.  Many of the walkers were the "Lost Boys," many of whom had witnessed the horrors of their parents being murdered, their homes and villages being burned, and worse.  They had little choice but to keep walking. 
Some of their other choices included:
  • being captured by the rebel soldiers and forced to fight
  • being captured by the Arabs and forced to serve as slaves
  • being eaten by lions
  • being eaten by crocodiles at one of the river crossings
  • being eaten by the circling vultures, who tried to eat walkers who stayed in one place
  • drowning in the river crossings
  • dying of malnutrition
  • dying of disease
As noted here a few weeks ago, some runners pay good money to trek across a different part of Africa.  Reading Achak's story in What is the What is a great reminder to me what a privilege running for the sake of running is, with no fear of attack or capture, with plenty of food and water, and a home and family to return to.

Achak and author Dave Eggers started a foundation to assist Sudanese refugees and promote development in Marial Bai. That must be immensely satisfying for Achak to be able to make such a huge difference in his hometown. Read about the foundation and his work here.

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