Dubai teen sets record while trying to help kids in Nepal

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Dubai teen sets record while trying to help kids in Nepal

15-year-old Kristen De Sousa acquires marathon record by running seven marathons on seven continents in less than 3 months.

By Sudeshna Sarkar

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Published: Thu 20 Mar 2014, 11:53 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 8:41 PM

FLIGHT DIVERSIONS. Train cancellations. Illness and injuries. Passport and visa issues and delays caused by bad weather. All this would add up to a race against time for anyone. It’s been even more so for Kristen De Sousa, the Dubai teen who decided to run seven marathons on seven continents — in less than three months — and raise money for underprivileged children in another part of the world.

The De Sousas came to Dubai from Canada in 2000. They had learnt to cope with the famed desert summer and Kristen was an XIth grader at Dubai College when she overheard a conversation: “My mum and her friends, who run marathons, were talking one day (that) it would be so cool to run a marathon on all seven continents. So mum asked me if I would be interested. At first, I thought, NO WAY!!! I was not a runner and could not imagine running that distance.”

However, she could not stop thinking about it and after mulling it over, thought it would be an exciting adventure.

Then began a gruelling training under the scorching Dubai sun. Kristen trained six days a week, which included one long run and several short stints. Both during the training and while taking part in the marathons she had several injuries — in the knees, ankles and Achilles’ tendons.

However, they were nothing compared to the red tape the family had to grapple with. They had to seek permission from each individual race director as marathon runners have to be at least 18. Mum Sharon had to submit a bundle of certificates from doctors, osteopaths and Kristen’s sports psychologist to prove that Kristen was physically and mentally capable of completing the races.

Then they had to raise the money for the runs as no sponsors were forthcoming. Finally Kristen’s pilot father Manuel funded the entire adventure. The first marathon was in Ontario in November. It took Kristen over four and a half hours to cover 42.2km. There were about 1,000 runners in each marathon except for a few, like the one in freezing Antarctica. On that frozen continent, it was a punishing stretch with the course including hills, gravel, rocks, snow and ice and the temperature dipping to -18C. Kristen finished the seventh — and last one — on January 30 in Chile with an ultra marathon of 50km.

This is not just the story of a young girl who became a marathon runner; it’s about a young girl who ran to reach out to youngsters like her. She wanted the marathons to help a charity.“I chose a charity that teaches teachers and students and builds schools,” the 15-year-old says. “I thought it was fitting as I am a student myself.” It’s a non-profit organisation called “Children of the Mountain”, founded by Irish trekker John Matthew who was moved by the warmth — and poverty — of the people he met while doing the Mt Annapurna circuit in Nepal in 2009. The charity says it aims to support underprivileged Nepali children by providing them education.

Through her online page, Kristen has raised over Dh24,000 for Children of the Mountain.

“It was an amazing experience,” she says, asked how she felt while doing the marathons. “There were many times when I (wondered) if I could go on but I focussed on the goal and knew that if I completed it, I would help a lot of children out there.”

Her only self-indulgence in this has been to apply for official recognition that she is the youngest runner to have undertaken seven marathons on seven continents. Sadly, she could not make it to the Guinness Book of World Records since it does not recognise achievers under 16 when it comes to endurance challenges. Also, there are other younger contenders. But she has received her certificate from the Book of Alternative Records as “the youngest person to run seven marathons on seven continents in the shortest time of 88 days”.

So what now? “For now, I plan to let my injuries heal fully,” Kristen says. “I am also currently studying for my exams as I am in Grade XI. But I would like to continue running and do the crazy ones like the Glow in the Dark.”

Her decision to give something to children she has never seen has gifted something to Kristen as well.

“I was a shy person but I am much more confident now,” she says. “I do believe you can do anything you want to achieve if you just try and put a lot of hard work into it!”

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