7 marathons in 7 days on 7 continents!

Three Dubai athletes in ‘777 challenge’ will run 295km and raise money to help educate children of poor Bangladeshi families

By Bernd Debusmann Jr. - Senior Reporter

Published: Sat 7 Feb 2015, 9:20 PM

Last updated: Thu 25 Jun 2015, 7:57 PM

An international trio of Dubai-based athletes led by an adventurous former Emirates airline flight attendant is set to run seven marathons in seven days on seven continents to raise money for the education of Bangladeshi children from families too poor to afford school.

RUNNING FOR A CAUSE... “I’ll do anything for my kids,” says Maria (right) who is no stranger to challenges In 2013 she climbed Mount Everest to raise money for the children, and, a few years before, trekked to the North Pole. Briton Saul Keens (left) was told by doctors never to run following a rash of motorcycle injuries, but Maria’s enthusiasm roused him to get involved. — Photo: Bernd Debusmann Jr.

Maria Conceiaco, a Portuguese national, Briton Saul Keens and South African Rosa Areosa will begin their journey in Melbourne, Australia tomorrow before returning to the UAE the next day to run another marathon at Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi. The third stage of their “777 challenge,” one of the toughest tests of human endurance, will take them to Paris. Next: Tunis, New York City, and Punta Arenas in Chile.

The final marathon, on February 14, will take place in Antarctica, on King George Island.

The money they raise from donors impressed by their feat will go the Maria Cristina Foundation, an institution Maria founded in 2005 after she learned of the plight of poor Bangladeshi children on a stopover in Dhaka. The foundation, MCF in short, currently has more than 200 students enrolled in a number of Bangladesh schools from kindergarten to twelfth grade.

An accomplished marathoner, Maria is no stranger to physical challenges in other fields. In 2013 she climbed Mount Everest to raise money for the children, and, a few years before, trekked to the North Pole.


LOVE STORY.... Maria is surrounded by the families of the poor children she helped educate. —Supplied photos 

“I’ll do anything for my kids,” Maria says of the challenges. “I started my training in the last week of July. By September I was doing five half-marathons in five days. By October I was doing five marathons consecutively, in five days.”

“By December I was doing 50km each day for seven days.”

Keens, a management and marketing consultant, said he was told by doctors never to run following a rash of motorcycle injuries, but that Maria’s enthusiasm roused him to get involved.

“I have to say, being inspired by this little quiet running machine, I thought why not? I’ll give it a go,” he said, gesturing to Maria.

Besides the obvious physical strain that comes from running seven consecutive marathons, the team will have to deal with a lack of recovery time, lack of proper sleep and the jet lag that comes from travelling across multiple “We’re extremely nervous about it,” Keens said. “We’re probably going to take sleeping mats to sleep whenever we have a chance, wherever there’s a flat floor.”

“We’re flying economy class,” Maria noted. “Some people are under the impression we’re flying business class. But I’m a humanitarian. Even if I had the money, I’d prefer to send kids to school with that.”

The MCF also supports an adult training programme for the families of the children they are putting through school. Maria explains why: “child labour is cheaper than adult labour. If I take a child and put him in school, the father loses his income. He cannot buy food. He cannot pay the rent. So I had to make it up to them.”

Several of the children — and their fathers — have gone on to work with Emirates after passing the airline’s application process.

PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT... Maria, who started training for the marathons in July, gets into shape in Dhaka, Bangladesh. 

“Emirates only promised an interview,” Keens points out. “The ones that are working now, with Emirates, are doing so well compared to how they would in Dhaka. They are supporting their friends, families and communities.”

One adult, working with Emirates as a wheelchair attendant, made enough money from tips to build a school of his own in Bangladesh.

“He started a school for 23 children in his village. Now he has 59. Only from his tips,” Maria said.

MCF estimates that the monthly salary of a wheelchair attendant in Dubai is 30 times the wage of a factory worker in Bangladesh. Emirates cargo handlers make 50 times more.

“Basically, they become very rich in their little community,” Maria said.

“But it’s good,” Ken added. “It inspires the others, the ones in school, to push harder.”

Keens said the accomplishments of their alumni show what people can do if properly motivated and given opportunities.

“The ethos of the foundation is ‘aim high’,” he said. “Commit yourself and don’t give up.”

Maria said that the children are all the motivation she needs to continue undertaking physical challenges such as the 777.

“If I do it, maybe, just maybe, someone will come forward and give me the money for a child to get to school,” she said. “When I have my pains, and I think to myself that I can’t do it, I just think to myself that for it’s maybe only two more hours I have to suffer muscular pain,”

“But if I don’t do it, for my kids, then it will be a lifetime of suffering and poverty.”


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