Contributed by Luca Turrini, AURA Member
500km for Love Mercy Foundation (Uganda, Africa)
17-21 November, 2019
The last stretch of our 500km relay run from Entebbe to Lira (Uganda) for the Love Mercy Foundation was like a scene from a movie.
People were everywhere, running jumping singing cheering dancing. On top of each other on old motorbikes, on bicycles, hanging out trucks and cars, joining in from every direction. Intense heat. The smell of sweat. Excitement and confusion. People moving in and out, back and forth, right and left, tripping, pushing, making space for themselves.
The singing and screaming of the runners and spectators filling up the sides of the street and the African music blasting from eight huge old speakers strapped on top of a truck, overpowering the sirens of the police escort.
And smiles; everyone smiling.
Running at an increasingly faster pace for almost 20km at this point, nobody seemed to care or worry. We, the hundreds of Ugandan, the six of us and the whole Australian and US contingent of Love Mercy were all running with and for the same man and what he stands for.
As we approached the last turn before the local stadium, where more people were waiting for us, I asked Julius Achon how this compared to the feeling of racing at the Olympics.
“There is no comparison. This is 1000 times better,” he said.
“This is the moment I waited for so long. I can retire after this.”
You see, Julius never got to celebrate his running achievements with his community because at the time his country was at war. He renounced living a comfortable life in the western world to return to northern Uganda and help his community and the 11 orphans he adopted, to thrive.
By becoming a Member of Parliament and truly work for his people. By being one of the driving forces and inspiration behind two charities in the US (Achon Uganda Children’s Fund) and Australia (Love Mercy Foundation), building health infrastructure, providing education and micro-finance programs for women to cultivate the soil.
This is why as a last-minute decision, Julius ran with us the 500km from the bottom to the top of Uganda that week. And he ran the furthest he ever ran on the last day. It was about redemption, celebration, sharing and making a difference.
Ultimately, it was about love.
The simple act of running has once again brought people from different backgrounds, socio-economical state, beliefs and stories, together to achieve something great. I have no chance to experience the vibe at the Olympics but I can confidently say that I would take ‘this’ running over any medal or accolade, any day of the week.
This is why I run and I feel it’s a great honour and responsibility to continue to do so.
What is this all about, you ask?
If you wonder what this 500km run was all about, a couple of years ago Eloise Wellings opened the Run Nation Film Festival with a short introduction of Love Mercy, the charity she founded with Julius in 2010.
From the seat behind mine, ultra runner and former politician Pat Farmer tapped me on the shoulder and said “Let’s run Uganda together, and we can raise funds for Eloise’s charity.”
I didn’t commit right away, but the sparkle in my eyes confirmed him that ‘inception’ was successful!
For those who know Pat, once he sets his mind on something, sooner or later he makes it happen.
So at 7am on November 17 (2019), Pat along with Matt Farmer, Kate and Justin McDonald and I started our run of Uganda, from Entebbe to Lira.
It was 500km, five people, five days, 5km stints at a time.
Five kilometre stints and 20km in total for the day may not seem like much. The traffic, the smoke, the dust, the heat, the ups and downs, the altitude and the stop/start format of the run made the kilometres noticeable for all of us. Particularly when you were the lucky one to get most of your 5km uphill.
As it often happens amongst runners, we didn’t know each other before the trip but we clicked and became good friends right away. The five days were filled with laughs, banter, a large amount of sweat and running in between.
We built strong relationships which I am sure will last a life time. It is impossible to pinpoint all the moments, conversations, people and the scenery that made this running experience so special and rewarding.
Lastly I wanted to thank the team from Love Mercy and for Julius for keeping us safe and well fed throughout the journey! Fellow runners Pat, Matt, Justin and Kate – they rocked it. I have not had so much fun in ages!
Pictured (feature): Justin McDonald, Kate McDonald, Pat Farmer, unknown, Luca Turrini and Matt Farmer. Photograph – Supplied.
More photos below.