Corporate teams are gearing up to take part in the Oxfam Trailwalker
After raising millions for charity and endless hours of training, teams are ready to take on the daunting Oxfam Trailwalker, writes Rachel Jacqueline
Teamwork and sheer will are mandatory for the 4,500 runners descending on the MacLehose Trail this weekend for the annual Oxfam Trailwalker, a gruelling 100-kilometre charity foot race completed in teams of four with a 48-hour time limit.
But the quartets are usually not alone in their journey to the finish line; the teams are often formed among colleagues and supported – physically, emotionally and financially – by fellow employees.
Corporate participation represents the largest and fastest-growing sector of the Trailwalker, says Kanie Siu Mei-kuen, director of fundraising and communications for Oxfam Hong Kong.
In 1986, the first year the event was open to the public, just 100 teams took part and raised HK$208,000; last year 1,179 teams raised HK$28 million. Almost HK$400 million has been raised in the past 27 years for Oxfam, a non-profit organisation focused on helping the poor.
More than 3,000 volunteers, 45,000 donors and 4,000 support team members are in action during the event. Over 40 key sponsors donate services and contribute vital manpower.
“The corporate community support helps us provide utilities, hiking gear, food and beverages to all participants and supporters, which helps them before and during the event,” Siu says.
For example, CLP Power has been providing the energy and infrastructure for the event since 1986. Each year, CLP lays more than 112,000 metres of cable, hangs over 42,000 light bulbs and high-beam lights, and supplies more than 9,800 power socket outlets.
Then, of course, there are those who coax their bodies over the 100-kilometre journey.
The majority of teams represent their organisation or corporate sponsors across 15 “industry categories” designed to encourage “a bit of positive competition for the finishing time and donations raised between various corporations among the industries”, says Siu.
Each year, about 300 teams are classified as “special” by raising at least HK$30,000 each (the minimum is HK$6,800). These teams are then given priority for registration the following year. Siu says they are usually corporate teams. This year there are 459 special teams, up from 397 last year.
Financial services provider State Street, the event’s primary sponsor, also gets physically involved. “We’re not just a sponsor – over the years we’ve had hundreds of State Street employees join Trailwalker, not only as participants but also as volunteers to support Oxfam’s important work,” says Natalie Wu, the company’s vice-president of corporate citizenship for Asia-Pacific.
There are also added benefits for participants in the event. “It’s all about teamwork and is a great opportunity for team building,” Siu says. “It’s also a fun way to develop team spirit within the corporate community,”
“Workplace involvement in the Oxfam Trailwalker is a unique way to support employees and strengthen relationships with clients and suppliers. It can also help promote a healthy workforce … and increase an organisation’s charitable profile.”
Team members: Andrew Stevens, Paul Armstrong, Sarah Chakales, Rebecca Wright
Fundraising target: “The more the better.”
Target time: 30 hours
The CNN news team has been gunning for a story of their own since moving to Hong Kong. With their training experiences for the Oxfam Trailwalker, they’re getting close to a headline.
“We’ve flirted with heatstroke, we’ve been drenched, we’ve been exhausted and we’ve been threatened and abused by monkeys – dozens of them,” says Andrew Stevens, 52, an anchor and correspondent.
After a failed attempt to secure a spot last year, the four workmates are thrilled to be taking part in the challenge. At least they think they are.
“Physically, for me, this is a 10 out of 10,” says Stevens.
“I think I’ve been a little naive about how challenging this is going to be,” says Sarah Chakales, 28, a writer.
“Completing the 40-kilometre Barclays MoonTrekker [three weeks ago] was physically and mentally demanding – and it wasn’t even half the distance we’ll cover for Trailwalker.”
The experience has enabled the team members to become closer with each other. “It’s hard not to bond when you’re going through the same challenges together,” Chakales says.
Rebecca Wright, 29, a producer, says: “We’ve gelled well together as a team, which will hopefully help us all get across the finish line.”
And once they’re there, the celebrations will be as fierce as their battered bodies will allow. “I’ll probably fall over and sleep holding a can of beer,” says Paul Armstrong, an editor.
Team members: Marcus Giles, Sim Preston, Dennis Theodosis, Knattapisit Krutkrongchai
Fundraising target: HK$200,000
Target time: under 20 hours
Representing AIA, this team is already a tight-knit bunch, but the trials and tribulations of 100 kilometres – not to mention the months of preparation – are forging an even stronger bond.
AIA has entered three teams in this year’s event and hope to raise more than HK$200,000 to support Oxfam. It is the first year the company has supported the cause, but they’re hoping to make a tradition of it, says team manager Lourens Roets, chief operating officer of AIA Vitality.
“It’s really a test of character and fortitude,” says Giles, director of direct marketing at AIA Group. “But for those of us who have been there before … we know one important thing that resonates as much out on the trails as it does in the office: teamwork is critical to success.”
The company’s support in bringing the three teams together has been critical, the teams say, and has been equally beneficial for AIA.
“We are headquartered in Hong Kong … so supporting the Oxfam Trailwalker speaks to our position as the ‘real life company’, with a strong commitment to enhancing people’s awareness of healthy living,” Roets says.
Team members: Jason Curran, Geoff Cameron, Michael Fenwick, Ryan Hummer
Fundraising target: HK$70,000
Target time: 30 hours
A simple staff room conversation sparked a year-long journey to complete the Oxfam Trailwalker for these four primary school teachers at the Chinese International School.
“There were a few of us discussing how crazy it would be to hike 100 kilometres in one go. The idea took hold, and the next thing we knew, we were registered,” says Jason Curran, 40. “We decided that if we were going to commit, then why not go all the way.”
Being a pledge team requires them to raise at least HK$70,000 for Oxfam. The response from the entire school community has been overwhelming. Their humorous website has been warmly received, and they have raised more than HK$60,000 so far.
“It is quite humbling to think that the whole CIS community, from co-workers to parents, family and friends, to the students themselves, have contributed to the cause,” says Michael Fenwick, 38.
To prepare, the team has been hiking twice a week after school and on the MacLehose Trail at the weekends. A few weeks ago, they completed a 57-kilometre overnight hike.
“It was brutal, but encouraging at the same time,” says Geoff Cameron. “In hindsight, I don’t think I give the race the respect it deserves, but then I may miss out on the camaraderie and chance to get in better shape.”
For Ryan Hummer, 33, it’s a love-hate relationship. “I love hiking with a great group of guys and having a good laugh … getting the blood flowing has overall improved my energy levels,” he says. “But I feel tired all the time and sleep more on buses and trains than I used to.”
The team agrees that, despite the lows, the experience has been transformational. They’ve all gained fitness, shed extra pounds, seen a side of Hong Kong they never knew existed and bonded along the way.
“We reflected today on how we used to hike and stop about halfway along the intended route for a beverage. We’ve certainly progressed,” Fenwick says. “Finishing is our first goal, and if we can do it inside 30 hours, that will be a bonus.”
Correction: In an earlier version of this article published on Tuesday, Nov 12, 2013, AIA was described as an "American insurance giant". This is incorrect. AIA is a leading life insurance provider in the Asia Pacific region and is headquartered in Hong Kong.