Life is a Relay: Part III-Passing the Baton

Posted by martin.parnell |
Life is a Relay: Part III-Passing the Baton

On June 23rd 2017 I stood on the Jack Singer Auditorium stage in Calgary and gave my TED Talk, Life is a Relay. This is part III, the final section, Passing the Baton:

Usain Bolt was a member of the gold medal winning 2012 and 2016 Jamaican Olympic 4x100 men’s relay team. One of the key factors for victory: successfully passing the baton.

In February 2015 I was hospitalized because of a massive blood clot on my brain. Suddenly from running multiple marathons, I needed help to walk the 20 feet from the hospital bed to the bathroom.

My recovery was slow and I was on a cocktail of drugs. But after 2 months I was allowed to go for short walks and in May I inched my way along to the finish line of the 2015 Calgary Marathon 5 km walk.

The months rolled by and one morning, in late October, my wife Sue, showed me an article in the Guardian newspaper. It was about the 1st Marathon of Afghanistan and a young woman named Zainab, who had become the first ever Afghan woman to have run a marathon.

What struck me were the challenges she faced in training. Normally, runners are normally dealing with issues of hydration, nutrition, blisters. For Zainab the issues were verbal and physical abuse. People would yell at her “get off the streets” and “you’re a prostitute” and they’d throw stones at her to stop her. She ended up training by running around and around inside her walled garden.

When I read this I vowed that if I was ever able to run again, I would support the women in the 2nd Marathon of Afghanistan. At the end of May I ran the 2016 Calgary Marathon and at the end of October was on a plane to Kabul.

When I arrived I met another marathon participant. Her name was Kubra and she was being supported by Free to Run, an NGO working with girls and women in communities impacted by war and conflict. Unfortunately her training had been interrupted by a bombing at her school, and she thought she would only be able to run the 10km. I asked if she would like to try and run the marathon together, with the aim of finishing within the cut-off time of 7 hours. She said yes.

The race started at 8.00am on November 4th and was held in the town of Bamyan, 140km north-west of Kabul. The course was brutal. It was an out and back and started at an elevation of 9,000 feet.  The out section then had an elevation gain of another 1,200 feet. Kubra and I started a routine of running 9 minutes and walking 1. The key was to take hydration, nutrition and electrolytes at regular intervals. We reached the turnaround at 3 hours 36 minutes and I knew that at this rate we wouldn’t make the cut-off time. Also, Kubra was struggling. She was suffering from stomach cramps.

We continued with the 9 and 1’s but Kubra’s cramps were getting worse and we started to walk. I knew Kubra was mentally tough and over the next two hours I used all my experience from 330 marathons to keep her going. I told her to take things in “10 minute chunks”, keep moving and not to look beyond that. With 6 hours 45 minutes gone we still had 1 km to go. We looked at each other and started running. We crossed the finish line at 6 hours and 52 minutes. We had 8 minutes to spare.

I had gone to Afghanistan to support the women and running with Kubra had helped me do it. Kubra had already exploded from the blocks with her efforts to promote women and girls rights and was hitting her stride with the work she was doing with Free to Run. During the 7 hours we were running we worked together for a common goal. Kubra had completed the marathon and the baton had been passed.

Now, I’m at the end of this relay and it’s time to hand off the baton.

I’d like to ask Gitti Sherzad to come up to the stage.

Gitti arrived in Calgary from Afghanistan at the age of seven with her parents and younger sister Gee-Sue. She is studying at the University of Calgary and Gitti and her team are presently organizing their first fundraiser to help victims of the devastation from the recent terrorist attacks in Kabul. These funds will go directly to the families most in need.

Gitti is doing something to make a difference. She’s exploded out of the blocks and is starting to hit her stride. Gitti, I’m handing over the baton to you. Take it and run with it.

So have you started your relay yet? What will it take for you to explode out of the blocks?Find your passion and you’re on your way. 

Hitting your stride can be a long journey. The key is an openness to take a chance and a willingness to persevere. 

At the end of the relay it’s time to pass the baton. So reach out to someone, share your experiences and make a difference in their life. 

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