With 12,000 world-class runners lining up for a grueling 56-mile course, South Africa’s Comrades Marathon may be the toughest, most competitive endurance race on earth. That’s challenge enough for The North Face® Athletes Kami Semick, Nikki Kimball and Mike Wardian from the United States; Lizzy Hawker and Sebestain Chaigneau from Europe, to enter “Comrades,” which started on May 30, 2010, but their mission to Africa is bigger than pure athleticism.
Sub-Saharan Africa has been devastated by the AIDS epidemic for so long and to such an extent that there exist entire communities where most parents and elders have died from or have become incapacitated by AIDS. This has left a “Lost Generation” of children to fend for themselves. Children are raising children with little guidance or education. Society in these communities is becoming unglued.
This global team of athletes will bring not only their running legs to South Africa, but through a fundraising enterprise under the auspices of the Starfish Charity they’ll inject a financial contribution into one of the hard-hit South African villages along the course of the race, Chesterville, funding the Vukukhanye program there. They’ll also visit that community prior to the race. Vukukhanye’s primary focus is the care and support of orphans and vulnerable children, a majority of which are under five years old. Vukukhanye, which means “Arise and Shine” in Zulu, supports 287 children, and the organization plans to increase its reach to at least 1,350 within three years. “Arise and Shine” reflects the people’s optimistic hope for the community of Chesterville and also their country, the hope that they will arise and shine and be examples to the world.
Comrades Marathon is the world’s oldest endurance run. It started in 1921 as a tribute to veterans of the First World War. Since then, its message has broadened to remind the world of the challenges and hardships faced by the people of the African continent. The course is also a celebration of the beauty of South Africa, beginning in the city of Pietermaritzburg and running a verdant, hilly course toward Durban, on the coast of the Indian Ocean.
The course record is 5 hours 24 minutes for men, and 6:14 for women. Kami won the IAU 100K World Cup, women’s, in Belgium in 2009; Nikki is a three-time female winner of the 100 mile Western States 100; Mike won a USATF Ultra Runner of the Year award for 2009; Lizzy won the 2006 IAU 100K World Cup; Seb was second overall at the 2009 UTMB. The North Face team feels confident they’ll place high, and we are proud to join this mission of hope to the orphans of AIDS.
Please lend your support to fund the Vukukhanye project.