Martha Walker is organizing a marathon in Haiti to help the troubled nation—and give runners the opportunity to see what a difference they can make.
Written by: Jeff Banowetz
This piece first appeared in the October 2010 edition of Competitor Chicago.
Most destination marathons emphasize the scenic course, runner amenities and vacation opportunities around the race. But those aren’t really the selling points of the inaugural Ouanaminthe Marathon in Haiti.
“It’s not your typical 26.2 type race,” says Martha Walker, a 41-year-old resident of Carpentersville, Ill., and the founder and organizer of the event. “Our main goal is to bring attention to the need for better education in Haiti. In a country often described as extremely dependent, we hope to begin raising a generation of Haitian children who can embrace the independence they so eagerly desire.”
The race, taking place in January 2011, already has attracted about a dozen runners—mostly from Chicago—who will travel to the Haitian city of Ouanaminthe (pronounced wan-a-minth, which sounds like “want a mint?”) to help raise money for education in the city. Walker’s goal is to raise $50,000. But more importantly, she’s hoping people will discover more about Haiti than what’s usually in the headlines.
“Two years ago, I went to Haiti on a mission trip to support a local orphanage,” Walker says. “The community of Ouanaminthe welcomed me in a way I did not expect. Having gone to Haiti in hopes of making a difference in the lives of others, I ended up being transformed myself.”
What particularly sparked Walker’s passion was seeing families who wanted their children to get an education but lacked the resources to provide it. She was inspired to found Restore Haiti, a charity dedicated to aiding those families.The idea for a marathon came from Walker’s passion for running. “I’ve been running most of my life,” Walker says. “I’ve never won a single race or even placed in my age division. For me, it was never about winning, it was always about the love for the long run.” She’s run six marathons, including Boston, but Walker found that she’s better suited for even longer races. “For me, the ultra combines the best of both worlds—slow running and eating,” she says. “Who could ask for more?”
The Ouanaminthe Marathon will have a little of that ultra vibe as well. Rather than focusing on PRs or competition, Walker is hoping runners will stay together for much of the race. Local children are expected to run along during small stretches of the race, and two schools are hoping to set up relay teams to participate.
“This run will offer the hustle and bustle of the city of Ouanaminthe, the friendly surroundings of the suburbs, as well as the beauty and splendor of the countryside,” Walker says. In Haiti, the runners will be staying at the Institution Univers school/missionary barracks in Ouanaminthe, where they’ll sleep on bunk beds and have access to meals and cold showers. “We’ll have the opportunity to meet the children and adults we’re serving,” she says. “And the Ouanaminthe community will have the chance to meet and embrace us.”