Every morning during her meditation, Veronique Bourbeau pictures herself in Cape Town, South Africa. She allows the exhaustion and exhilaration of the moment to wash through her as if she is really there.
Programming herself like this is the only way the Victoria resident can push through the impossibility of running more than 13,000 kilometres from the tip to the tail of Africa in one year and instead focus on her goal – to provide safe drinking water for people in need along the way.
“I’m a true believer that what you put in your mind can empower you or destroy you,” she says.
Indeed, mental fortitude is what has allowed Bourbeau to go from being a non-runner 14 years ago to planning to become the first woman and second person ever to run the length of Africa.
When she first tried running in 2007, she hated it. It was winter in Quebec City and she was too self-conscious to go outside with the “professional” runners, so Bourbeau bought an old treadmill and began an alternating regimen of walking then running one kilometre.
It was awful, she admits, but Bourbeau loves a challenge and pushed herself to stick with it. Within seven months, she ran her first marathon. She considered quitting after that but thought it would be a shame to waste all her hard work. So Bourbeau ran another marathon and cut 40 minutes off her original time.
“It was where I really started to love running,” she says.
Suddenly, Bourbeau was completing two marathons a week. She and her husband began travelling around the world for work with their two children, and everywhere they went she took on bigger and bigger challenges.
Pursuing the sport of ultramarathon, in the United Arab Emirates she ran her first 100-mile (161 km) race, then in Japan she took on 250 km and in Malaysia tackled 444 km. Each time, finishing seemed impossible, but Bourbeau pushed through and came out the other side craving more.
“When you reach this point that you didn’t even know existed, you go beyond what you thought you could achieve as a person. You reach an energy so big, you are yourself but it’s something more than you,” she says.
Eventually Bourbeau started to think about how she could use her running to give back. She remembered a trip to Senegal, Africa years ago and the women and girls she met who spent their days lugging water instead of attending school.
“People would welcome us in for food even when they didn’t know if they’d have food for the next day,” she says.
Over her planned year-long run, Bourbeau plans to visit villages in 19 countries from Alexandria, Egypt to Cape Town, South Africa, raising money for clean water infrastructure along the way.
“It’s about water, but it’s also about humanity,” she says. She believes deeply in a world where generosity and understanding govern people’s actions.
For her, running is about more than a personal challenge now, it’s about using her ability to make the world a better place. “We are all here for a reason. I think this is what I’m here for.”
She’s living in Victoria for the time being to be close to her children, who attend school here, and to secure the funding and partnerships necessary to make her trans-African trek successful. If all goes to plan, Bourbeau hopes to start her journey within the year.
More information on her goal and where to donate can be found at veroniquerun.com.
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