Difficult things

SMUS-Views-Bob

When I consider “difficult” things, I avoid using that word. Rather such experiences are “challenges” – or if I am feeling particularly euphemistic, “opportunities”. So this entry is a bit of a challenge, mainly because some personal threads are woven among the SMUS threads in its fabric, and I shy away from personal stuff. As you will see, though, my challenge is a comparatively tiny, tiny one.

One of the distractions this week has been to follow the progress of our youngest son, Graham, class of SMUS 1999, as he runs, climbs, walks, treks about 250 kilometres through the Annapurna region of Nepal. He is participating in Racing the Planet: Nepal 2011,  a race over seven days that takes him to the foot of Annapurna I, and three other of the four highest mountains in the world, all of which happen to be within viewing distance in this region of Nepal. My wife, Joan, and I were in this very location two years ago on sabbatical, and I wrote about it in a series of blogs beginning here  . If you want to see these four mountaintops, I took a video of them you can view here .But while Joan and I had a team of porters and guides for our trek, the competitors in this race have to carry all their own food, clothing and sleeping bag (water and tents are supplied at camp each night), and they have to cover the equivalent of a marathon each day. This is up and down the steepest mountains in the world. On the fifth stage of the race, they have to run a double marathon, or in this particular case, 75 km. The average altitude is 8,000 feet, about 2200 metres. I am very happy to know that he will be on his last stage tomorrow, having successfully completed the double marathon section yesterday, almost 18 hours before the cut-off time. Tomorrow he is looking forward to the relatively leisurely 15 km finale.

Like many SMUS students, he is taking this opportunity to raise money, in this instance for students with learning disabilities; in the past he has raised money for leukemia research, cancer research and other worthy causes. Writing about the end of the double-marathon stage yesterday, he says,

The final 20km are a bit of a blur. It is remarkable how hard you can push yourself. I didn’t stop at any of the final 2 checkpoints because I couldn’t afford to stop moving. The fatigue, pain, level of discomfort and frustration of knowing that the incredibly unhealthy meal you are salivating for that would normally help you get through the last part of your run isn’t a possibility for three more days are crushing.

Seriously. For 19km all I could think about was sitting at Vera’s Burgers with a turkey burger in one hand, a lamb burger in the other, and a double order of fries.

One of the great things about training for marathons, or running them, is that you can eat anything, and your body can use it constructively. Those of us who are not marathoners have to be a bit more abstemious.

He finishes off by observing, This has been a learning experience the depth of which I am unlikely to understand for many more months. As opposed to learning more about myself I have discovered how little I actual I know. For this opportunity I am grateful.

I and many of my colleagues at the school continually observe that in working with our students we are kind of like the volunteers at checkpoints in this race: helping them along a path, to a destination that we will marvel at, and which will humble us. We are teachers, after all, and don’t occupy the world stage that many of those we teach will occupy. So we are proud and humbled at the same time. One of life’s most satisfying paradoxes.

Graham on Day 1, trekking poles in hand, suffering from a gastric ailment that ripped through the competitors.


Joan and I with Annapurna 2 in the background. From this same location you can also so Daulighiri 1 and 2, and Annapurna 1, making up four of the highest mountains in the world.

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Bob Snowden
Bob Snowden was Head of School at St. Michaels University School for 22 years, from 1995-2017.

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