As I sit on the plane somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean between Haiti and Florida right now, I am struggling to think about how I am going to put this past week into words. How do I recap and describe an experience that has changed my life forever? Honestly I’m not sure, but I’ve got some time on this flight so I’m going to try.
It has been a long road to get to this day and I cannot believe I am finally here now. On the other side of the 2019 Run Across Haiti. In the past 9 months I have focused and trained harder as a runner than I ever have. I have found new, life long friends. I have felt the warmth and love of a community of family and friends cheering me on from near and far. I have felt highs and lows. I have constantly questioned my own ability and strength. I have shed tears when I heard news of the postponement. I have also shed tears when I heard of the rescheduling. I then again shed tears when we missed our flight and the first day. And then again when I finally touched down in Cap Haitian. All before the run even started.
Then it all began. Ready or not, myself and the three other runners from Philly, went from sitting on the plane to running within the matter of hours to make up the Day 2 mileage. Missing that first day was unbelievably difficult and disappointing, but I’m realizing that isn’t what this is all about. This run is about more than that. It is about giving yourself over wholly to this cause. It is about doing everything you can for our families. It is about pushing yourself forward every single day and I know in my heart that I did that, that I did everything I could.
Anyway, I digress. Guys, seeing an entire country on foot for the first time is absolute sensory overload. Every single day you encounter something new. Bustling markets. Motos and taptaps whizzing by you around winding roads. Smiling children running by your side. Friendly faces and a “bonjou!” Lots of words in a language I unfortunately barely know (going to work on that!). Sunrises over mountaintops. Breathtaking views of the ocean. Smells of mangos, sage, diesel fuel. The sun beating down on your back. Sweat dripping...no pouring...off your skin. I could go on and on, but maybe this little teaser will encourage you to go and see it for yourself.
The run itself was the most difficult physical challenge I’ve ever taken on. Sometimes it seems like there’s no way it’s possible. The constant pounding of pavement beneath your feet. The 2:45am wake ups day after day. (Except for the last day where I kid you not, I slept for 3 hours and then ran 50 miles). The blisters, heat rash, sunburns, sweat, sore knees, blown quads. Despite it all, you wake up each day and find your own rhythm to push forward. I am amazed at my own capabilities to keep going and continue to put one foot in front of the other. It has given me a whole new perspective on our ability to endure. To keep working and keep pushing when things are the hardest.
What I love about this run is how much its spirit and the challenge of it mirrors the spirit of the Haitian people and our families. Across this country I met so many people full of hope and love and joy, all in the face of extreme adversity and challenge. I am amazed at their ability to take it all in stride and continue to work and push forward for what we all want in this world. A good life and a good future for ourselves and our families. I have learned so much and it has helped me put so much into perspective about things that I perceive to be my own challenges and my ability to endure and overcome them. We all have a lot to learn from the Haitian people and their unbreakable spirit.
I feel so blessed to now be a part of the Run Across Haiti and Work family. This past week I have met some of the most genuine, loving, and hard working people I ever have. I felt immediately welcomed in as one of their own not only by those from the US but those from Haiti as well. I now feel surrounded by a family working for something bigger than themselves. Working to do better and be better always. Working to help others. No matter what. Working to break down barriers and fill the empty space with passion and love. Working to show the world what kind of a place Haiti really is. I am truly honored to be a part of this.
Lastly, I feel like this recap wouldn’t be complete without a few thank you’s. Thank you first and foremost to Viv and Christina and the entire Work team for making all of this possible. Your spirit and commitment to this run and Work is remarkable. I cannot imagine the work that goes into this, please get some sleep this week! (Also thank you for dealing with all of my insanity over the postponement, flight disasters, and so many tears I shed this week). Thank you to each and every runner willing to sacrifice so much to be here. Thank you for you words of advice, encouragement, hugs, high fives. You kept me going. (Extra special shout out to Ed for pacing me the last 11 miles of the final day. I cannot even begin to express what that meant). Thank you to our entire crew, I cannot thank you guys enough. It is truly incredible what you did to keep all of us runners going. You were always ready and energetic despite little sleep. You knew when to be motivating, when to be silly, where all the bathrooms were, when to be serious, when to help, and when to leave me alone. I truly don’t know how you did it. Thank you to our unbelievable photo crew for capturing the raw emotion of this run. Thank you of course to my amazing Philly ladies. It took SO much for us to get here, and I am certain I wouldn’t have been able to do this without you. Thank you to my friends and family back home for all of your constant love and support. And finally, thank you to our families. Thank you for your support and love of this run. Thank you for your words of encouragement every morning. Thank you for being the reason we run. I don’t run for myself anymore, I run for you. I run for Haiti. Pou Ayiti!
Yesterday we got the opportunity to visit Menelas, the community that Work works with. We were greeted at the schoolhouse, beautifully decorated to welcome us. We heard from students and parents who have benefitted from Work and their programming. We saw Carmitha’s shop and heard how it’s grown and expanded over the years. We saw Giordani’s house and listened to how far he has come with its expansion. From a UN tent post earthquake, to a small house with a tin roof, to now a multi-room stone home. We saw the glimmer in his eyes as he talked about how far he has come and the dreams he has for himself and for his family.
Then we saw the future. We saw the plot of land in Menelas where Work has a vision to create a community garden and sustainable restaurant. We closed our eyes, breathed, and imagined what the future can look like for our families and this vibrant community.
And all this was after a 20 mile run in the morning from Saint Marc to Wahoo Bay. Through tight markets. Over rolling hills. Sandwiched between the ocean and the mountains. It was a long and emotional day, but so very worth it.
Throughout the day as we talked to different community members I heard a few times that they did not think the run was going to be possible this year. They did not believe we would still come given the political unrest and challenges we have faced in our journey to get here. This stuck with me. It made me realize why it is so important that we are here. Why it is so important that we travel this country on foot and take in all the views, smells, and smiling faces. Why it is so important to show the world that Haiti is not a place to be feared or pitied. It is a place of beauty, joy, love, and incredible resiliency.
What a day. 33 miles. Check. Waking up each morning with tired eyes and sore legs is tough. It’s tough to imagine how on earth you are going to continue moving forward. Or how on earth your legs are going to work. But then you stop, look around, and reflect. You remember why we are all here. For our families.
I have been trying to take as much time as I can to appreciate all that is around me. I remind myself that I GET to do this. I don’t HAVE to do this, I GET to. And I am blessed to be able to. This is an experience unlike any other. I am able to see beautiful sunrises peaking over the mountains. I am able to see the smiling faces of the children that yell “BLAN!” every time they see me coming, and then giggle when I respond with “Bonjour!” I am able to take in the mixture of smells coming from the markets; the sage, the smoke, the mangos. When the going gets tough, and believe me it has, I try to remind myself of these moments. It helps me continue to put one foot in front of the other despite heat (and heat rash), unbelievably sore quads, tender feet, and chafing in places you don’t even want to know about.
Tomorrow we run 20 miles into Wahoo Bay and then get the amazing opportunity to visit Menelas to see the community and meet the families that Work and this run supports. This is why we are here. This is why we work. Pou Ayiti!