For those of you from more advanced countries with the metric system, the title to this post is “3.1 Kilograms and 42.2 Kilometers.”
On Sunday, October 7th, I ran my first marathon, 26.2 miles through 29 neighborhoods of Chicago. And yet, it was only the second most strenuous activity by a member of my family that week. My daughter delivered her second child, a boy named Remy Reed Petrick, last Thursday.
Something about my run coming three days after Remy’s birth got me thinking about the disparities that start at birth, and even before birth, between people born in different parts of the world. I ran on behalf of World Vision, raising money for their work to provide clean water to people who live in areas of the world where water is in short supply. According to World Vision’s analysis, for every $50 I raised, one more person would get access to clean water.
On Thursday morning I got a text message from Anna, saying she was in regular labor and asking if I could come over to watch their 2-year-old son, Eli. I hopped in the car and drove the two miles to their house. I got there just after her water had broken and just before they headed off to the hospital. That afternoon my wife and I brought Eli to Anna’s hospital room to meet his new brother.
It was there that the disparities became obvious to me. On one side of the room sat a large birthing tub that took 50 gallons of water to fill (a tub that my daughter never got a chance to use, since Remy came out before the tub could get filled). In my mind I was thinking about the children I would be running for, who walked several kilometers each day carrying one and a half gallons of dirty water on their heads to take care of their family’s needs for the day. I thought of the risk a woman went through in those areas to give birth, knowing that the water that would clean their bodies and slake their thirst might also bring disease for themselves or their child. Instead of a gleaming hospital room filled with equipment to detect the first sign of something going wrong, they gave birth at home, far from the medical care they might need in the case of complications.
Saturday as I ran through Chicago I had many similar thoughts. Every mile and a half as I ran I came across a water station with water and Gatorade for all the runners. Every other aid station also had medical care and a row of port-a-potties to take care of our needs. Later in the race various running nutrition companies offered free food as we ran. Police guarded every intersection to make sure nothing interfered with our run. Almost a million people lined the streets, and since I had my name printed in large letters on my shirt I had people cheering me by name on almost every block. All this for people who had chosen to spend their free time proving to themselves that they could accomplish something difficult.
I thought of mothers and children in dusty parts of the world that travel six kilometers every day, not to prove something to themselves, but to provide the water their family would need for that day. They encounter no water stations on their trip, no toilets or medical stations to care for them, and no cheering crowds along the way. Many of the children who make this trek cannot go to school because of the time the journey takes out of each day. The women and girls usually travel in groups early in the morning for their own safety, because there is no one there to guard them.
The inequities of our world start before birth and continue on through childhood, adulthood and old age. My parents earned enough that they did not need my labor to be able to feed the family. I was able to study, to find employment, and have enough spare time to get the exercise my sedentary lifestyle doesn’t provide. I could even turn this exercise into a personal challenge.
The interesting thing about running is that it is probably the most egalitarian of all sports. It is one person against time and distance. As such, it gives a glimpse of what our world might be like if everyone had equal opportunities at health and education.
Mo Farah (Sir Mo), born in Somalia and now a citizen of Great Britain, placed first among men in the Chicago Marathon. Seven of the top ten male finishers came from countries prone to water shortages. Brigid Kosgei of Kenya placed first among the women finishers, and the top five female finishers came from Kenya or Ethiopia. A lot of these competitors had grown up running dirt paths to fetch water for their families.
Runners from the drought-prone Horn of Africa have shown us that the human body is capable of running faster and farther than we previously thought. Over the last 16 years they have lowered the men’s marathon record by four minutes. In fact, running experts now anticipate the first marathon run in less than two hours, a feat thought impossible just a decade ago.
I wonder how many other accomplishments and inventions await us when all people in the world have the opportunity to thrive.
World Vision is still accepting donations on my behalf for providing clean water to rural villages in Africa. You can donate here: LR Donation Page