We already know that travel and sports both serve us well in terms of personal development. But what if our trips could create a positive impact? What if our runs could empower the community? That's exactly what Nick Kershaw was thinking when he founded Impact Marathon.
A Catalyst for Change
Impact Marathon hosts marathons around the world, but you don't just travel and run: you sign-up for a week-long project intended to serve as a catalyst that can empower the community for long after you leave. As Kershaw says, he doesn't believe that a few days of volunteering can really change the world, but “the key is that we are entirely community led.” Impact Marathon goes into the community and asks how they can help. For example, in Nepal, Impact Marathon runners and about 100 local community members built a five-kilometer pipeline that brings water to the village year-around—because that's what the community said they needed. The local people drive the project, and “that's where the power lies,” says Kershaw.
Kershaw is a runner himself—a couple of years ago, he completed the Pyongyang Marathon in North Korea, where he did the worm at the finish line in front of 60,000 North Korean spectators. (Fun fact: he has since been banned from returning to North Korea.) However, Impact Marathon was founded from a love of creating an impact, not a love of running.
Running Can Transform People and Communities
Still, Kershaw acknowledges the positive impact running itself can have: “It is the best feeling—you have a bad day, and it’s not so bad because you ran. You have a great day, and it becomes an awesome day because you ran. It’s funny; running has changed everything in my life, but it’s the simplest, most beautiful empowerment tool in the world!” He started running to help him through the stress at work and the divorce of his parents, and he has seen other lives changed through this sport.
He tells this story of Mira Rai, a Nepali girl who joined the Maoist army at the age of 16 during the civil war:
“She was always a fast runner, but [she lived] in a country where a talented sportsman has few opportunities to explore this talent….until one day she turned up at a 50km ultra marathon and tore it up! From there, she has gone on to be up there with the best endurance runners on the planet.
“At our Nepal Marathon in November, Mira came along and so did hundreds of young girls! Each one of them said the same thing: 'I’m here because of Mira Didi' (a Nepali word for ‘older sister’). She is doing so much for gender equality in Nepal; girls are growing in confidence through running, and now there are more opportunities for talented Nepali girls to run on the global scene. It’s seriously awesome.”
Impact Marathon's first race was in Nepal, and they intend to expand to a series of six to eight races all over the world. Kershaw says, “We want to be building the series into a huge force in philanthropy, travel and running. We don’t want our races to the biggest, or even the best…we want them to be the most powerful, most humble, most beautiful races to be part of. We want each person to return home with a hundred new friends for life, having experienced each country in an utterly unique way. We want them to return home as empowered individuals, inspired and equipped to become community leaders, to change their corporate culture toward socially motivated business, to inspire their children to stand up and have their voices heard.”
Though Impact Marathon recently had to postpone their upcoming race in Colombia, Kershaw doesn't see it as a setback. “A setback is just a negative way to view what is most likely an opportunity. Postponing Colombia should have been the worst day in my career, but it wasn’t. We are a stronger team because of it...it’s breathed fresh life into Impact Marathons. We have now got a timeline for growth that will deliver much better, more humble and impactful events. Colombia is such a fascinating, enigmatic country to work in. And this year it has proven just a little too enigmatic! We have so many great plans for the race when we bring it back into the series. It still hurts, but that’s just fuel for future success for the team.”
The team is small, but it's big with energy and focus. Kershaw says that volunteering through an Impact Week is a great test to see if you can handle being on the team full time. Can you keep your cool and make something amazing happen when you land in a country miles away from your own, both geographically and culturally? Can you laugh, serve, and manage “hanging on to the back of a motorbike to source 3,000 biscuits in one morning?” If so, you might be a good fit for Impact Marathon.
If you want to participate in an Impact Week, Kershaw says they accept 120 international participants for each race. They want to be able to get to know each runner, and to keep the purpose about service, not numbers. The next race will in Nepal (November 13-19, 2017) with more to follow in Malawi, Guatemala, and Colombia.
As with any business venture, Kershaw says the journey has been amazing. His favorite part? “The people. Runners, communities. Everyone who at the end of a week gives you a big hug and says, 'Thank you, that was the best week of my life'. It’s such an honor to be able to facilitate that experience for people. It’s what inspires me.”
Photos by David Altabev