My 72yo mum doing the Serengeti Marathon for Parkinson’s
I want to be honest with you guys. Starting my blog changed my life, and then it changed my mum’s life. But the industry can drain you. Nowadays, writing content like “10 things to see in London” is such a better use of time that writing true, heartfelt accounts of your life. The concept of being a blogger has long since changed. True stories about your life don’t rank for any keywords, they don’t bring in any traffic, and therefore also don’t bring in any money. I’m guilty of this too, hence why this Serengeti Marathon blog post is so late.
Time to get back to why I wanted to be a blogger in the first place. To inspire, to show the world what’s possible with some grit and a dream. And it’s easy to see where I get my grit from here. My mum. Over 10 years with Parkinson’s disease. But she took on a 10km race as part of the Serengeti Marathon with nothing but determination, and a dream. And so we did it. Here’s the story.
Table of contents
First, climbing Mount Fuji!
My mum was diagnosed with Parkinsons Disease back in 2012, but she had already had a tremor for a couple of years, so she was already 10 years in with the disease by the time we had the idea to start raising money to help find a cure for Parkinson’s. So, for her 70th birthday, 2 years previously, I organised a group trip to go and climb Mount Fuji in Japan. It was a real struggle, tears and hospitals, but my mum made it to the top. I’ve never been so proud. A huge acomplishment.
Also, we put together an amazing group of 16 people to co-climb with us, and we managed to raise over $20,000USD for ‘Cure Parkinson’s’. 2 years later, it was time to do it again. But that also sadly meant 2 more years of Parkinson’s, a disease which only gets worse with time. If climbing a mountain isn’t possible, we can do something on the flat!
I had spent a lot of time in Tanzania over the last 5 years through my Mudita Adventures non-profit. We have a really good team there with my buddy Joe and together we had built a whole school there over 5 projects, completing revamping the whole thing and donated over $100,000. I also wanted to bring my mum to the school, to show her what we had managed to do AND I wanted her to get a chance to go on safari before it’s too late.
I had been doing a lot of crazy endurance events recently, so I had hear of the ‘Serengeti Marathon’s existence before. That was perfect. I put together another group trip – 18 people, meet in Tanzania, we’ll visit our school and donate some much needed laptops, go on Safari together, ‘run’ the marathon, then go party and celebrate on Zanzibar island after! And so the idea was launched!
The Serengeti Marathon (10km)
I have the most amazing group of people who follow my instagram and blog. We’ve built a fun community. One where we do epic stuff to Mauritania, Iraq, Central African Republic half the time, where the other half we do charity work and donate what we can. So the tickets to this adventure sold out in a day or two and the wheels were in motion. $20,000 was set as a target to donate to Parkinson’s and again we managed to exceed it. Now all that was left was to get mum to the start line and get the thing done successfully!
The good thing about the Serengeti Marathon is that, like most running events, they allow people to sign up for different distances. My mum, with her condition and age, wasn’t quite up to a 42km/26 mile marathon. She thought she could just about do the 5km. The surface is awful across the Serengeti, it’s mostly off-road etc, and Parkinson’s has left her balance unsure. But she decided to push it further and sign up for the 10km.
The other members of the group signed up for various distances, from 10km to a half-marathon (21km/13 miles) to the full marathon.
The 10km race
We all showed up bright and early around 5.30am, and the whole Serengeti Marathon event was chaos, truth be told. We managed to find our various start times and spots. Each varied depending on the distance you would run. The event itself had maybe 500 competitors? Maybe even 1000. But it’s not so famous, so there were only a handful of foreigners, mostly aid workers who live in Tanzania. Needless to say, there was only one group of confused tourists ambling around… US! But we got there in the end.
My mum was super nervous. When she’s emotional, her Parkinson’s plays up worse. I could see she was unsteady under foot and her shake/sway was quite pronounced. I was pretty worried. Also, the interest around her from the locals was huge! It’s not normal in Tanzania to see someone in their 70s push themself like this, and even less usual if they have a chronic illness.
The full marathon runners went first. That was a couple of my buddies, Max and Rob. The the half marathon crew 20 minutes later. The majority of our team did the half marathon, so off they went. And finally the 10km crew were good to go. We let the masses sprint off, I didn’t want my mum to get bumped or knocked over. And within 200m or so, there we were, on our way. Alone in the Serengeti!
Well, I say alone. For anyone who has ever been to Tanzania, you’ll know how wildly friendly the locals are. It’s crazy, and lovely! So although my mum and I were in last place in the race, we had a support vehicle with just us, an ambulance driving with just us AND two armed guards to boot! Quite the entourage!
And on we went. We monitored mum’s heart rate and it was getting rather high. However, the race had a cut off time, so we can dilly-dally too much. That was quite the predicament. Every couple of hundred metres, we’d take a breather. My mum would rest, take a deep breath. She also took some extra medication to calm down her tremors, and other Parkinson’s symptoms.
This wasn’t the enjoyable walk in the park I had naively hoped for. My mum was on the ropes, but on we went. Because we were so far back, each time we reached a drinks station, the station had already cleaned up and moved on. For sure that wasn’t great for morale. Kindly though, the Tanzanian organiser had told me not to worry too much about the cut off time, and that they would allow my mum additional time should she need it. A huge relief. I know my mum was so stressed about failing the 10km, either due to her body giving up, or by the cut off time. At least that was 50% of the worries gone. Now she just needed to stay on her feet.
As we hit the 2 hour mark, the sun was rising and it was hot. Drenched in sweat. Most of the other racers of all distances had finished. It was basically just us left on the track.
The GPS system in the Serengeti was off too. Which meant our snazzy smart watches, from Suunto to Garmin, were all off. My mum was struggling. After almost 3 hours, I had figured we had another 90 minutes or so to go. This was the furthest my mum had walked for YEARS. It was also the longest she had been on her feet for years. And that meant the medication was wearing off faster. The heat, and the sweating, didn’t help either. I was genuinely worried she wouldn’t make it.
And, that wouldn’t have bothered me AT ALL! She was out here trying her best. Fighting with every ounce against this horrible disease. Working so hard. But I was worried for her. I knew she would feel so low if she ‘failed’. So I was hoping so much she would be ok.
The local staff kept checking on us. And on we marched. Then we had a guy try to turn us back. Noooo, it’s over?! Were they worried about my mum. She was looking beaten. Her posture had gone, her heart rate was up. Not good.
NOPE! We (that means me… oooops!) had miscalculated the distance. The GPS was all over the place. We weren’t just 7km into the 10km. But 9.3km in! We only had 700m or so to go. Turn around, hit the final corner and WE ARE DONE!
That was a morale boost and a half. Suddenly, we knew we would do it. We couldn’t pick up the pace as mum was onher last legs but we could do it with a smile, knowing she was going to accomplish what she had set out to do.
A hero’s welcome…
By this stage it felt like the whole event knew about my mum, her condition, the fund raising and her 10km. So when we came to finish, people began to gather to watch this legend cross the line! Last place, and second last place, never felt so glorious.
Some of the local guys formed a final entourage for her, singing about “mama” as she marched the final 100m to the finish line. I was in floods of tears, as I am rewriting this blog post now. It was my mum’s time to shine as she crossed the finish line to a true hero’s welcome.
And so she did it! We all did it! $20k towards finding a cure . A wonderful bonding experience for not just my mum and I, but our whole group.
A very weary, but very happy lady!
And with that, it was time to breathe. To relax. And to recover. We all made our way back to the hotel.Drinks were planned, and some managed to put away quite a few beers! My mum though? She earned a rest I think. Tomorrow is a new day. You’re a legend mum!
A video recap, flick to the end if you want to see the finish:
Zanzibar, hot air balloons and Safari!
My trips aren’t all about stress and fitness, I promise! The rest of the trip was a blast. We had earned our good times, so good times were had. Such a stellar group. Old bonds strengthened, and new bonds formed. And I’m so, so grateful for you guys for helping raise money, for trusting me with your time and your precious holiday time. We did it folks.
I don’t want to talk too much about the Serengeti safari, the Ngorongoro Crater, the hot air balloon or the good times in Zanzibar. We shared them all together and they were epic! What a ride. Until the next time….
What’s Next? A 100KM CYCLE IN JORDAN!
Oh, the next time you heard me say? The Serengeti Marathon wasn’t enough? Ok, so yup! We’re doing it again. This time in the Middle East. “No rest for the wicked” or so they say. So let’s raise another $20k. And lets get this disease worrying for its long-term prospects.
But we don’t expect money for nothing. My mum and I (and hopefully 16 of you guys!) are going to cycle from Petra to the desert in Wadi Rum (where Lawrence of Arabia made his fame). It’s 100km, so it’s going to be a struggle for my mum. We’re going to do it on a tandem bike if we can find one. So come join us! The full itinerary and price are HERE from 22nd February, and you can sign up HERE from 22nd February. First come, first served folks!
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