Some nonprofit organizations are a little sketchy, to say the least. Some are highly corrupt or disorganized, some come in with White Savior Complexes and don’t actually listen or respond to the real needs of the population in question, some don’t actually put much of their money towards the work they claim to do, etc. So when I found an international nonprofit that actually practiced what it preached, operated with high levels of organization, ethics and financial transparency and effectively addressed real community needs, I immediately stopped in my tracks and declared “I’m going to run a 26.2 mile race for these guys.”
(That’s not actually what happened at all.)
I got to know the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF) for the first time when I was in the West Bank in 2014. I got to meet their founder, see some of their operations, and get to know their work. To put it lightly, I was pretty amazed at the unbelievable amount of good this organization does on a daily basis. They have mental health programs, two cancer centers, education and tutoring programs, emergency relief programs, cardiac health programs, Syrian refugee programs, sponsorship programs, orphan programs, and all sorts of other medical and humanitarian services for children who really need that care. You’d think that this would mean they’re trying to do too much at once, but what I found was how incredibly well-run each of those programs is on a daily basis. Their streak of nearly perfect scores from rating systems like Charity Navigator is uncommon even among well-reputed nonprofits, and the doctors they work with are top-notch. But if you’d have asked me back then if I’d be willing to run a marathon for them, I would have gotten wide-eyed and scrambled for a nice way to say no.
At the time, I was a runner in that I ran a lot and enjoyed it, but 26.2 miles sounded vile and demonstrably beyond me. I’d done my fair share of half marathons, but as a person with a pretty severe heart condition, 13.1 miles felt like more than enough of a challenge. Then two years ago, I learned about Team Palestine, whose runners donate all of the money raised from the races they run to the PCRF. After a year of training and dreaming about it, I had the honor of joining their ranks and racing with them last spring. We raised over $8,000 for the PCRF in a single race, and it was an incredible experience. But the race I competed in as a Team Palestine runner was only a 10-miler, a distance where I could just focus on speed and not worry about going insane from the mileage.
…Running with this heart condition is so much harder than running was before I had it.
Many Team Palestine runners didn’t stop at 10-mile races; they competed in full marathons like Chicago. I saw them, and thoughts like, “What if I could maaaybe train up to their level?” began to creep into my head. Meanwhile, I kept hearing about amazing things that the PCRF was doing on a daily basis, from giving a boy a successful life-saving kidney transplant a few days ago to recently running large-scale wheelchair distribution drives to get wheelchairs to children and refugees who needed them. As PCRF success stories kept rolling in, I kept thinking about my good friend Layan who was murdered in Israel’s 2014 massacre on Gaza when she was 20. I thought about her vivacious, goofy, strong and ambitious spirit and her unceasing ability to inspire me, and I knew without a doubt that she would encourage me to go for it. So for the first time, instead of just talking about running a marathon and only getting halfway through the training, I actually signed up and stuck with it.
To put it lightly, training hasn’t been easy. Committing to run a marathon isn’t just committing to those 26.2 miles, it’s committing to run at least 450-500 training miles over four months in order to make those 26.2 miles happen on race day. I moved to Denver this past November, and acclimating to high altitude is a tricky and often dangerous process that runners are supposed to take much more gradually than I have.
More challenging than the altitude and my first-time marathoner status is the reality that running with this heart condition is so much harder than running was before I had it. Most people with similarly severe cases of neurocardiogenic syndrome can’t exercise much or at all, so it felt like a miracle when I got cardiologist approval. This past Saturday I had a cardiac episode that made it hard to even walk, and the next day I had to do a 20-mile training run. I’m not an elite athlete by any means, but having a cause this compelling to run for has made me up my game and establish new (but still healthy) limits to which I’m willing to push myself.
Lastly, there’s a second and equally daunting finish line to cross. The fund-raising element is supposed to be a lot easier than the running element, but to be honest, I’ve been horrible at fund-raising ever since I was a middle school choir nerd trying to hustle Gertrude Hawk. By some great miracle I’ve reached 80% of my goal (a dollar for each of the 460 training miles), but I’ve most likely exhausted most of my resources in terms of family and friends who are willing to donate. This is where I casually drop the link to my donation page. 😉 #DoItForPalestine
In five weeks, I’m going to have the honor of being the sole runner representing Team Palestine at the Colfax Marathon. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t still profoundly intimidated by that reality, and by the reality of how long 26.2 miles feels. But I’ve got my vegan superpowers keeping me strong and thriving, a killer playlist keeping me sane through all the miles, and above all, an amazing cause to run for. If PCRF doctors can save so many kids’ lives, if PCRF summer camps can do wonders for the mental health of traumatized kids in Gaza, if PCRF refugee programs can help as many Syrian families as they have, if PCRF tutoring programs can help so many students get into college… I can drag myself across a finish line next month*.