Health and wellness

Hongkongers’ endurance sport challenges motivated by charity fundraising

From ultrarunning and extreme triathlons to rollerblading across the United States and rowing across the Atlantic, five Hong Kong adventurers are embarking on very different journeys – each one driven by a higher cause

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 March, 2018, 8:16pm
UPDATED : Friday, 16 March, 2018, 10:28am

When you are out of breath, tired and your legs are burning, all you want to do is give up. But five Hongkongers find the will to keep going as they draw on higher causes.

Mayank Vaid and his friend David Gething are embarking on the Arch 2 Arc extreme triathlon in June, running from London to the English channel, swimming the English Channel, and cycling to Paris, for the charities Zubin Foundation and Outward Bound Hong Kong.

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Fund manager Stephen Pau will run a 170km race in Patagonia in April for medical charity Orbis and a 100km ultra marathon in July around the Eiger in the Bernese Alps for the British Red Cross .

Yanise Ho has just started an epic adventure rollerblading from Miami almost 10,000km around the United States with little money, relying on the kindness of strangers for food and shelter, while raising funds for charity One Girl Can. In December, sports marketer Chris Giffin will be rowing across the Atlantic to raise money for Whale and Dolphin Conservation and the Thistle Foundation.

Each will call on the worthy issues they support in their low moments.

Vaid is the intellectual property director for Louis Vuitton Asia-Pacific; Gething is a veterinary surgeon and veteran triathlete. Their triathlon is 460km, and they are determined to raise enough money per kilometre to help 288 children through two charities.

Zubin supports vulnerable communities with non-Chinese-speaking children who have learning disabilities, while Outward Bound helps young people find their potential outdoors.

“Every time we cross a mile we know that a child is helped, and then another and then another,” Vaid said. “It’s a great motivator. We are doing this for fun, but we have a great motivation one by one [mile].”

He and Gething will need all the help they can get to raise their target of HK$1 million, and cross the finish line.

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“Usually with triathlons, it’s the swim that happens first, but it’s going to be challenging because the really hard part, the swim, comes after an ultra distance run,” he said. “We don’t know how we will feel after a run like that, so that is what we are focusing our training on.”

Beyond the funds, Vaid hopes the struggle they will face on the challenge will reflect the struggle vulnerable communities face every day, and the difficulties some children have in accessing the outdoors and taking part in sport. Their aim is to raise awareness of the latter, as well as money.

“This is my first time doing something this big for charity,” he said. “Only 24 people have done it, and no one from Hong Kong, so it is very difficult.”

Pau will use charity to find a new level of grit on his two ultra marathons.

“Obviously, after all the tough training you want to go and do your best,” he said, having run a number of long distance races, including the 170km Ultra Trail of Mont Blanc. “But with charity, you have more determination and perseverance.

“In 2006, I ran 100km race but I had diarrhoea after 70km. I had to stop more than 20 times. Even the officials said I should stop, but with 30km to go I found perseverance.”

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Pau said if he quits he feels like he will disappoint people who have donated to the causes. Orbis is a non-profit that helps fight blindness by providing access to quality eye care to people in need in poverty stricken and remote areas. The British Red Cross is an international humanitarian charity.

“For every step I run or walk, it helps the people in need,” Pau said, adding that by completing a challenge, he is more likely to get additional attention that will raise awareness of the causes he supports.

Usually with triathlons, it’s the swim that happens first but it’s going to be challenging because the really hard part, the swim, comes after an ultra distance run
Mayank Vaid

Ho’s adventure aligns with her charity. Beyond raising money for One Girl Can’s mission to empower girls through education, by embarking on the solo trip the 23-year-old hopes to show one girl can do anything.

She roller-skated from the US state of Georgia to Miami in 2016, so she has an idea what to expect. Her decision to take only a small amount of money highlights one of her messages.

“I just relied on the kindness of strangers,” she said. “I wanted to prove there is more kindness than bad people in the world.”

Ho was overwhelmed by the support she attracted in 2016: “I never had to sleep on the street, people fed me better than I fed myself.” After 10 days, she gave away her sleeping bag.

“One Girl Can is my support system. They have encouraged me every step of the way, and that encouragement is all the motivation I need.”

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Giffin will attempt the world’s toughest row, more than 4,828km west from the Canary Islands to Antigua, unsupported in a team of three in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. Whale and Dolphin Conservation is fighting plastic pollution and leading research into marine wildlife, but the disabilities charity Thistle Foundation is one close to Giffin’s heart.

Giffin’s brother Andrew suffers from cerebral palsy, having faced complications at birth. Andrew does not have control of his muscles, so has been in a wheelchair since birth and has permanent brain damage.

“I have no doubt that there are going to be tough moments for all of us out there, but being able to remember exactly why we are doing this will lift us all and spur us on to complete the immense challenge,” he said.

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Giffin says seeing the challenges his brother faces on a daily basis will give him the ability to push through hard times at sea.

“It will be a significant driver for me knowing that we can make a real difference to the lives of individuals who face the same hardships.”