U Vic students to run 100 marathons

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

VICTORIA (CUP) " Summer is a time to kick back and relax for most students; but for two University of Victoria undergrads, this summer will be one giant marathon.

At the beginning of April, Erin van Wiltenburg, a fourth-year physical education student, and Reuben Jentink, a first-year student at UVic, will fly to Walvis Bay, Namibia, where they will start the first leg of a 4,200 km journey across Africa.

Within a few days, they will begin running the first of 100 marathons that they will complete over the course of four months. Running 42.2 kilometres a day, they will travel through Namibia and Zambia before finishing in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

“We’re doing it because we believe in the dignity of the African people and we feel that their dignity is compromised on a daily basis,” van Wiltenburg said.

“We need to hear about the atrocities and stuff that’s going on there, but at some point we just need to celebrate who they are and that’s why we’re doing this.”

Their trip, called “See Them Run”, aims to raise $500,000 for several programs, including Rooms to Read, which builds libraries and learning programs in Africa and Southeast Asia.

“A lot of our money is going to [Rooms to Read] to start their Zambia project,” van Wiltenburg said. She is especially excited about the program after her previous volunteer experience in Kenya.

“In all my time in Africa, I’ve never seen a library,” she said.

The rest of the money raised will go to Engineers Without Borders and African Medical and Research Foundation.

Jentink and van Wiltenburg have known each other since elementary school and trained for triathlons together in high school. The pair came up with the idea of “See Them Run” during a long road trip returning from a marathon in Red Deer, AB.

“We were throwing out crazy ideas,” van Wiltenburg said. They discussed biking along the Coquihalla Highway or running across Russia, but when the idea of running across Africa came up, the duo realized they’d stumbled upon something special.

“When I think about Africa, I get so excited about seeing the kids and making a difference,” van Wiltenburg said.

Because van Wiltenburg and Jentink will be camping throughout the trip, they will get a chance to experience first hand how the money they are raising will improve communities.

“What we’ll try to do is stay at schools and camp in school compounds,” van Wiltenburg said. “We’ll get a glimpse at what is happening with education and hang out with kids.”

For Jentink, who has never been to Africa, camping between marathons will provide a chance to take in all of the beauty and culture the countries have to offer.

“I’m really excited about the experience of seeing the continent,” he said.

Despite their enthusiasm, readying their bodies and minds for the trip hasn’t been easy for van Wiltenburg and Jentink. To train, they have been running six days a week.

“We started with one marathon back in October on the weekend. Four weeks after that we bumped it up to two marathons in a row and then four weeks after that we bumped it up to three marathons in a row,” Jentink said.

Now the pair is running five marathons a week.

“I was nervous before that we wouldn’t be able to do it, but as it gets closer and closer, I realize that my body can,” Jentink said. “Our physicality isn’t a worry anymore.”

While they may be prepared physically for running 4,200 km in 120 days, adjusting mentally is still a concern. While training, they have about a week to mentally recover after running a series of marathons. When van Wiltenburg and Jentink start running in Africa, they’ll only have one day to get over a week’s worth of marathons.

But as their departure date nears, the excitement continues to grow and the attitudes of community members are shifting.

“It took a while for people to realize that we were actually serious about doing it,” van Wiltenburg said. “But now everyone thinks we should be on Oprah.”

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