By Marco Degasper, Simien EcoTours
Debark, Ethiopia – It is over 50 years since Abebe Bikila won the Rome Olympics Marathon. He run barefoot and he was the first gold medalist in a long line of long distance runners who have followed. Haile Gebre Selassie is the most famous.
Nowadays, up in the Ethiopian highlands, girls and boys train every morning in the hope of achieving success like Abebe. If they are lucky they get to go and race in Addis Abeba, the sprawling metropolis where people run before dawn to avoid the smog and the traffic. Hundreds of people run in the hope of finding glory but up in the highlands there has been little hope, until now.
In mid December the new Simien 10k race will determine who will be the champions of the mountains. The youth of the frontier town of Debark are training hard with minimum coaching.
A pair of plastic sandals, imported from China, costs about 40 birr or two US dollars. It is the cheapest footwear available and every runner uses them. Some still prefer to run barefoot but the fastest runners have all now migrated to the new Chinese footwear. Many dream of owning a pair of Nike’s like their new heroes, the Dibaba sisters, Haile or Abebe. But for most that remains a dream.
A few years ago, recognising that there was true running potential amongst the mountain people, the American foundation Girls Gotta Run (www.girlsgottarun.com) decided to support girls who wished to take up sport as an alternative to early marriage. Many joined hoping for an escape from poverty. Some did receive running shoes from American donors and coaches now help the best runners. The foundation has provided more than that. It has provided hope for all, a kind of Ethiopian lottery where everybody dreams that through sport they can become rich and famous. Furthermore, nothing will stop the runners even if they don’t have fancy running shoes. For now, the plastic version from China provides an alternative.
On December 14th, the first ever Simien 10k run will decide the mountain champions. Runners will come from the towns but the enthusiasm of the Simien runners, who train at an altitude of 3000 meters, is likely to produce a champion. The race is the initiative of Simien Lodge who recognise their obligation to give community support. Other sponsors will surely want to be part of the action.
SimienEcoTours is a tour agency based on ecotourism that offers different tours all around Ethiopia, including, but not limited to, the classical tours (historic route with Lalibela, Axum and Gondar, trekkings in different national parks such as Simien or Bale Mountains, etc.), but also tours with challenging character (long treks) or under extreme climate conditions (for example in the Danakil Depression or Afar Region), guaranteeing in any case a smooth organization and a secure and safe travel through the experienced guides and well equipped facilities.
Marco Degasper, General Manager