Guest blog from Ray Zahab
We were at 14,000 feet of altitude in the Altiplano, Bolivia. Seventeen-year-old Brandon had made his way from north of Saskatoon to be here with us- his team. His team consisted of four other youth adventurers around his age. Each of them here for their own purpose and their own mission. Brandon’s purpose clear to him, maybe not to the others-they couldn’t know him, or know his life. How could they?
He was here on an Honor run. Spirit would be here with him. This he knew.
His goal? Run 35 kilometres per day for six days. Doing the math, he would yield 200 or more kilometres in a week. He would reach a peak of 15,000 feet altitude by the final day of this endurance diatribe. That end was hard to come by. Running 35 kilometres is a difficult task at sea level, let alone at the base of some volcano high up in the Bolivian mountains, day after day. He was here to do this, accomplish this seemingly impossible task. Why?
Ask him and I am sure he would tell you that at the time he asked himself that very question. After one week he knew the answer: his greatness would not be defined by this run- but by his actions now – by what he would prove to himself he was and we all are capable of. Of our OWN greatness. That is what determines our path…and future. A future that is confident in knowing he would exceed personal physical, emotional and mental limits to accomplish what most say couldn’t be done. He had heard ‘couldn’t’ so much in his life. First Nations youth have enough to deal with – he had his own demons and was now facing them head on, on his terms.
The running was, as he puts it, the easy part. There was no convenient “this is so tough” description. But there was a purpose to this maniacal run across remote Bolivian mountains. His grandest of commitments? Share what he was learning about himself everyday to thousands of students around the globe that were following his every move.
No small feat when your feet are on fire and covered in blisters from running all day. Couple that with the burning lungs from high altitude running. Day after day. Meanwhile Brandon was a young man of few words or readable emotions.
He was so alive and bright during the team communications. Every day, like clockwork. Midway through the day, a live satellite feed was broadcasted into schools globally. Classrooms would appear on the monitor of the computer being used to communicate his expedition via satellite feed and video conferencing software called Digigone. School names would pop up, and questions would be asked of Brandon and his teammates from those schools who joined in on the conversation.
One day the name of Brandon’s school in his First Nations community appeared on screen. They cheered to him as if he were a superhero, or legend. As far as they were concerned, and as far as I am concerned, he is. Brandon finished that day with deep knowledge that we are all capable of the extraordinary. That we are all capable of taking the seemingly impossible and making it possible.
As I write this I am on a plane heading for Death Valley. My goal is to run 300 kilometres from the north border of Death Valley in Nevada to the South boundary of the national park- off road. Nobody has ever tried and I guess there is a reason why! Brandon may not know it- but when it hits 125 degrees Fahrenheit and I think I can’t take another step- he will be the catalyst for me to move forward.