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How many of you are out there looking for meaning? Have you ever asked yourself, what would you be doing if you had six months to live? Whether it’s in a deeper spiritual way, or a sense that you are missing something, something fulfilling, I think many of us are searching for a sense of purpose, a sense of living out our full potential.
Samuel Beckett once wrote, “the sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new”. It reveals the absurdity of the human condition, where living a safe comfortable life of sleeping, eating, working, have become a norm. The missing piece in all of this, is our time for self, time for our thoughts, reflections and the ability to connect with the beauty of nature, of being outside in our environment with others, to feel it, to play in it, to struggle and be challenged by it.
Ultra-endurance events allow for this and more. This sense of adventure and challenge is what draws us because of its ability to revive us and change us at the core. We are meant to feel alive and invigorated.
I grew up as a second generation Korean American in Los Angeles CA with hard-working parents who wanted to provide a better life for me and my sister. Motivated by the pursuit of the “American Dream” my parents spoke of, I studied hard and made my way to UC Berkeley to pursue a career in health care. It was then that my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and was given six short months to leave her legacy.
In the midst of chaos, despair, pain and suffering, my mother’s faith, her gentle yet courageous spirit shone so bright. Her legacy was on of hope, love, sacrifice, joy and perseverance through faith until she reached her finish line.
I had always enjoyed running, but this time I dove deeper into longer distances. There was loss, but running brought me back to feelings of gratitude, for life, breath, and exposed me to an amazing community of people. Doors continued to open, and in 2017, I learned about an ultra-adventure run across Haiti.
The run across Haiti is a 230 mile ultramarathon from Cap Haitien to Jacmel, run in seven days with the non-profit organization called Work. What was primally so powerful and appealing to me was not necessarily that people were running these distances, but why they were doing this. The run is a fundraiser for families living in conditions of extreme poverty in a community called Menelas. Approximately 10,000 family members are included in the service area of Work and waiting to be placed into good, dignified jobs. The monthly median income is $30.5 USD, many people fall victim to illness due to poor access to medical facilities and children are not able to afford an education.
As with many things in life, a simple idea is often the best idea. In 2014 Ian Rosenberger, founder of Work, and his good friend and supporter Chris Murrer, ran the 4 Desert Race in Jordan that grought 600 new donors and raised $55,000 to support the cause.
They thought it was silly not to run in Haiti just because there wasn’t a sanctioned run across the country at that time – so they mapped out the course, brought in a few partners and seven friends ran across Haiti for the first time in 2015. In 2016, the North Face jumped on board, 20 runners ran and raised $137,000. The following year $168,995 was raised, 225 work days were generated, contributing to $70,656 in Haiti’s tourism industry. The impact of the run across Haiti continues to grow and expand, bringing new hope and dignity to the families who are able to lift themselves out of poverty forever. And that’s the power of community.
I used to say that running changed my life, and I still believe that to a certain extent, but what I see now is that it’s not a single race, because that’s really just one checkpoint, it’s the community of people I’ve come to know during these experiences that have made an impact. On the last day of the run across Haiti, fellow runner Matt Mauclair asked us “What is your legacy? What will crossing the finish line in Jacmel mean to you? What will others remember about you at the end of your life?”
For me, thoughts of my mother rushed in and it was difficult to hold back tears. It made sense that perhaps this was the legacy my mom had passed on to me – You, were made for so much more than the American dream or the nice retirement, or to get a big following on social media. You were made for so much more than the endless pursuit of pleasure to drown out how mundane and boring life can seem, you were made for so much more than to live for the weekends.
You were made in the image of someone much greater than all those things, to live in community and do the things that light you up with the people that you love. You were made to be good ambassadors of humanity, so that faith, goodness and hope can be restored. Ultimately, I believe we are all running towards the same finish line. So my hope is not that everyone goes out and runs across a country, but it is that you will find the right path that will lead you to your legacy, to meet the people who will make you better, alive, and grateful.
Allow yourself grace when you make mistakes and use struggles and disappointments to practice perseverance. We are the sum of our life choices, dreams, aspirations, mistakes and the risks we take to get to where we want to be. We might not always make the best decisions, and things won’t always go as planned, but in the end, it’s all worth it. And if it doesn’t feel like that, it probably isn’t the end.
-Esther Park @estherp1e
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