2020 has been a very different year than normal for all of us. COVID-19 has affected everyone in ways we never thought would happen, and for the most vulnerable of our communities, it has made life even harder.
For many in our community, the shutdown means no job, no opportunity to earn money, and no guarantee of food on the table. Nearly 20% of Bellingham visits the food bank on a regular basis, according to data released by the Bellingham Food Bank, and COVID has only made it more difficult for already struggling families to get the food they need.
At times of need like this, community is a valuable asset to organizations that support those in our town that need help. With the help of myself and two of my runner friends, we were able to start a unique fundraiser idea by combining two of our passions – exercise and good food.
The three of us had been running together for the past few weeks to stay active and retain a sense of normalcy. A couple of miles a day, plus some strides and brainstorming about distanced team-building kept all of us motivated. Because of COVID, we were not able to meet as a team for the season – so no team dinners, workouts, or chances to set new personal records.
To shake things up, we had the idea to start a fundraiser on GoFundMe for the Bellingham Food Bank, and to raise awareness, we were going to walk a marathon.
We didn’t expect much to come of the fundraiser. Our decision to walk the marathon was kind of late, and we had less than a week to get the word out. We hoped to maybe get a couple of hundred dollars from friends and family, and call it good. But the generosity of our community blew us away.
Tuesday morning came quickly, and we met at Squalicum High School at 7 a.m., ready to walk. It was a beautiful morning, clear but not too warm. Kyla had mapped out a path for us that was a full 26.2 miles, taking us all around our city. Our packs were filled with enough food and water to last us to our first checkpoint and other small items that we thought might come in handy on the way. Because of the pandemic, we were also wearing masks to protect others we passed on the way.
At that time, we had raised over $1,000, with an extra $500 from Ted Carlson from Sanitary Services that would be donated if we finished the marathon. This was so much more than anything we had dreamed of, and the walk had turned into something bigger than ourselves. We were no longer doing this for our own enjoyment, rather to help so many other people in our community.
We left Squalicum around 7:30 in the morning and our route led us down through the Railroad Trail, out to Alabama Street, and into Downtown Bellingham. From there, we walked south through Boulevard Park and met Amber’s parents at the Fairhaven Green to restock our food and water. We then walked through the Fairhaven Interurban Trails, and then out to Clark’s Point, where we stopped for lunch.
Up until this point, the walk was easy. We were all in good spirits, didn’t have too painful blisters, and had just reached one of the most beautiful views in Bellingham that I had ever seen. Our lunch break was peaceful and relaxing. I didn’t have any doubt that we would be able to finish.
But, by the time we made it back to Boulevard Park, our feet were sore and we were beginning to feel the miles. We had planned to have Boulevard be at about 15 miles, but since we got lost for a bit in the Interurban trails, we lost almost a whole mile, and still had a little over 12 miles to go.
At Boulevard we met with my parents to get more food and water and put our feet in the water. Our pace had dropped a bit, but we were still very motivated to finish.
We then walked past Zuanich Park and up through Squalicum Creek Park, then towards Cornwall Park where we met with Kyla’s mom. By now, all of us were hurting somewhere and definitely tired. Still, we only took a short break and then kept walking.
From Cornwall, we walked over to Alabama Street, then walked up Alabama until we reconnected with the trail. We took the Railroad trail back towards Barkley, then, realizing that we needed more mileage, made a short detour to Alabama Bridge.
By now, we were definitely hurting. To be honest, I don’t think I would have been able to finish if I hadn’t been doing it with my friends and for a good cause. But we worked together to keep going. When one of us wanted to give up, the others were there to encourage and support them. It was truly a team effort.
We made it back to Squalicum around 6:30 in the evening. It had been almost 12 hours of walking, but we all felt so happy to be done. By the time we had finished, we raised over $2,000 for the food bank.
This has felt like a very dark season for everyone, but the encouragement and generosity of people that day has helped me to remember that there is still so much love in the world. We talked to so many sweet people along the way and taught ourselves that we can do anything we set our minds to, no matter how crazy it sounds. Yet we could not have done this on our own. I am so grateful to everyone who met us along the way with food, encouragement, and motivation.
Nobody is too young or too powerless to make a difference in their community. I sincerely hope that people will read this and go take action. Especially now, we need people to step up and make a difference where they can, no matter the scale.