Recently I was sat watching TV, taking time out from my quarterly fret about what to write as my Editorial for Trail Run magazine. Several possibilities had been kicking around my addled brain but nothing was sticking. Then on the screen came a story that moved me and set me thinking about what a lucky sod I am. I’m lucky because I can run, albeit slowly and always with a few creaks, groans and niggles. But I can run. I can experience places, people and things that only runners can. I can feel the soft, glowing satisfaction that comes from having given legs and lungs a bloody good workout. I really am a lucky sod. I can run.
The story that so moved me was one about Coen, a 14-year old Australian boy with cystic fibrosis. The illness has robbed him of 70% of his lung function and severely limits what he can do by way of physical exercise. But the thing he said he most missed was running. Now I don’t suppose for a moment that he meant running competitively or even as a sport in its own right. He just meant running around the park with his mates, chasing a ball, getting up to pranks, that kind of thing. But that only serves to reinforce how fundamental the act of running – which we the trail running community takes for granted – is to us as a species.
This brave kid needs a double lung transplant if he is to have any chance of survival, but the incidence of organ donation in Australia is apparently one of the lowest in the developed world. So what does he do? Well, he shows us that while this cruel illness has taken away so much of his capacity for physical exertion it has not robbed him of any of his spirit. Instead of sitting around and feeling sorry for himself he jumps on a jet ski and travels the length of the Murray River, en route convincing a thousand Australians to become organ donors.
I thought Coen’s story was brilliant and inspiring. It got me thinking. What if all us lucky sods, who collectively run hundreds of thousands of kilometres each year in pursuit of largely selfish goals, could channel just a small percentage of that effort into helping the less fortunate out there? We all know people who, because of a terrible accident or an insidious illness, have been cruelly robbed of the ability to enjoy the stuff we take for granted. There are many charities set up to help these people, all struggling for money. Can’t we, as a caring community of lucky sods, help by using our passion for the trails to raise funds for these deserving causes?
Many of us I know are already doing this. In 2009 & 2010 I pulled together over a hundred runners who collectively raised $260,000 to assist leukaemia sufferers. We did this by running trails. Later this year I am teaming up with English runner Tom Bland to raise money for Mental Health charities in the UK and New Zealand by attempting to run the UK’s longest footpath – the 1,014 km long South West Coast Path – in just two weeks (see www.coastpathrun.co.uk for more). I don’t pretend for a moment that these are noble or selfless acts. I do not intend to present myself as any kind of hero. After all, I do these things because I love trail running and because I love Big Hairy Audacious Goals. But it doesn’t take much extra effort to turn an essentially selfish act into a worthwhile contributor to the greater good.
So, who will you help in 2012 you lucky, lucky sods?
Note: This piece first appeared in Trail Run magazine, edition 4. Download your own copy of this magazine for FREE by clicking here.
Thanks & happy trails