Thursday, April 22, 2010

Calzado de Ometepe Kids 5k

The Calzado de Ometepe Kids 5k was a charity event held in conjunction the Ultramaraton Fuego y Agua on Isla Ometepe in Nicaragua, allowing the race a way of giving back to the people of the island. This race was for the school children of Ometepe Island to promote fitness and provide shoes for the children. It was held the day after the ultramarathon (Dec. 13, 2009). After running the 50k the prior day, I came out to volunteer. The prior year, the organizers of the ultramarathon directed both races back-to-back, but that left them exhausted and so this year Natural Doctors International came in to direct the Kid’s race.

The organizers of the ultramarathon had been collecting donations of used running shoes in the U.S. to provide to the kids who participated in the race. This is an area where people don’t have access to such items. But there were not enough shoes nor enough funds donated to purchase more shoes in Nicaragua. A last minute donation from Team Traverse provided funding that allowed some of the race organizers to travel into Managua and purchase a lot of shoes the day before the race. I had heard a story well intentioned person in the U.S had offered to run out and buy a single $100 pair of running shoes to send down to help, but that $100 could by around 80 shoes locally. It is much more efficient use of the money.

On the morning of the event, I arrived at the town square (site of the finish line) to see how I could help. Many of the ultramaraton participants came out to volunteer. Kids were arriving and trucks were beginning to shuttle people out to the starting area. I hitched a ride with other volunteers out to the starting area 4km outside of town.

In the starting area, trucks were arriving from across the island to drop off kids. Kids were lining up to check in and received their shoes. One of the other American volunteers observed that at an event like this in the U.S., kids at an event like this would not be so well behaved and orderly. I watched as kids checked in and tried on their shoes. While many kids ran the race with their new shoes, one mother was seen to take her kid’s new shoes away quickly and put them in her purse while the kid put back on an old pair to run with. Probably this was to save this gift so that it would not get messed up too quickly in the race.

The race is open to kids of the island ages 8-16. . The race was split into three age groups, each doing a different distance. The older kids ran 5 kilometers, middle-age kids ran 4k, and the youngest I think ran 1k. Each town on the island was given a limit to the number of students that could be enrolled as there were only so many shoes to go around. There were also some pretty big prizes for the winners of each age division – brand new bikes. This brought out the competitiveness for many. In an impoverished community, such prizes were beyond many family’s budgets.

Since I did not speak Spanish, there was not much I could really help with as a volunteer during this check-in stage, especially where there was some controversy because there were not enough shoes of the right sizes for every kid, or when kids tried to check in with the wrong age group. The race director was abit overloaded with issues and thought the best way I could help would be to just take a lot of pictures they could use for publicity for next year’s event. Since that was what I was already doing, I continued taking pictures.

Eventually it was time for everyone to head to the start. I walked to the 4k startline where I got into the back of the pick-up truck that would drive infront of the lead runners. While taking pictures of the startline, I noticed some kids were either barefoot or wearing only socks. They were not following the recent minimalist running craze. I don’t know whether this was because there were not enough shoes to go around, or if they did not want to dirty up the new shoes in the race. Yellow caution take was pulled out across the road to mark the startline. After about 20 minutes, the race began.

The pickup truck drove ahead of the lead runners. A couple of the other gringo ultramarathon participants were also in the truck taking pictures, so it was like the press truck. But whenever the truck’s speed fell to slow, it went to slow, it stalled and the runners passed. This gave me an opportunity to take pictures of more of different kids as they ran past. After the truck started up again and we started passing the runners, many of the kids who had slowed or fell into a walk started running hard to show off once they saw the cameras.

When we hit the first water stop, I noticed the kids came to a full stop to drink the whole cup of water for like a minute instead of trying to run while they drank. I heard after the race from some of the volunteers that at first many of the kids did not realize what the waterstop was. The English speaking volunteers had to figure out they needed to yell out “agua” so the kids would know they could take the water.

For most of the last half of the race route, I got many pictures from the back of the truck of the same 4 or five kids who were in lead. A couple of young girls took the early lead, one wearing only sock. As they faded, others surged ahead. As we got closer to the finish line in the town of Moyogalpa, we started to pass some of the younger kids running the shorter race. There was one mother running with her daughter. I got out of the truck a few blocks from the finish line and so I missed seeing the finish of this lead group of kids we had been driving in front of. I continued to take pictures of many of the remaining kids as they ran past.

Some yellow caution tape was strung across the road to mark the finish line. As finishers approached, the people holding this tape raised the tape so runners could run under. Still, many finishers paused to duck under the finish line as they crossed. There were speakers set up and a DJ playing party music for the race. Some of the music was American rap with lyrics not appropriate for kids, but since it was in English rather than Spanish perhaps people here did not notice. The closest electrical outlet to power the speakers was in a restaurant next to the park. Just before the race, the restaurant had refused permission for the race to plug in since electricity is so expensive. The wife of one of the ultramaraton participants happened to overhear the argument over the electricity and offered to pay the restaurant to allow the DJ to plug in and provide music for the finish line festivities.

After the race I heard from the volunteers at the finish there was a lot of confusion to figure out the winners. Several of the top-3 finishers who would have gotten prizes ran off before the race officials could capture their name and order of finish. Different finishline observers (foreign volunteers, local volunteers, parents, policemen) each recorded a different order of finishers. Some kids were found to have run with the wrong age group, although it was not clear if that was intentional cheating or they just did not understand the separation of divisions. One of the older kids who I recognized since she had been volunteering with the ultramarathon, had won the older kids division but had to be disqualified since she forgot to sign up before the race.

The finishers gathered on the basket ball courts next to the finish line and lined up for the post race meal, which was a bowl of rice, beans, and bread. I tried to stay for the awards ceremony, but I had leave before the awards ceremony to check out of my hotel before noon. I never learned how all this was resolved, or which of the kids I had photographed became the eventual winners.

In the end, over 350 kids participated in the race and most walked away with a new pair of shoes.

For more pictures, view the fullscreen slideshow or visit the photo album on smugmug

- Ultramaraton Fuego y Agua
- Natural Doctors International
- More Blog Posts or Photo Albums from this Nicaragua Trip
- Google Map of the places I visited in this Trip

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1 comment:

  1. Great post. Sounds like an awsome event for an awsome cause. Love the photos.


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