A Colorful Story by Ahmet H Uysal
It took four flights and seventeen hours to get to the North Pole from Istanbul. But to me, that is a small price to pay for impact I was hoping to make in the lives of children in the picture above. I ran against the wind for 7 hours and 47 minutes in -58F° weather, and every mile was worth it.
The unfolding of the events was mere coincidence. I always wanted to travel to the North Pole and thought about doing a ski expedition. Once I started to research the region, I found about the North Pole Marathon, a 42 km running track on snow in extreme weather conditions. It was one of the most challenging competitions I had ever heard of. I wanted to be the first person from Turkey to run at the North Pole Marathon. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I am not an athlete and, to be honest, running has never been a strength of mine. I needed serious training to get into shape and to learn how to survive in freezing temperatures. There were many barriers that I had to overcome.
That’s when I thought about dedicating this adventure to a cause I believed in. I asked myself, what moved me so much that I wouldn’t give up on my mission? Ever since I was a child my parents supported the education of children in need around us. Schooling has been always in the heart of my family and I knew nothing could motivate me more than being able to make a change in the lives of children.
My next step was to choose an organization to help facilitate the cause. I wanted to ensure my funds raised would reach the right people and be used effectively. After meeting the team at TEGV, I was very impressed. TEGV’s mission is to reach and empower as many children as possible throughout Turkey. We discussed focusing my fundraiser on one of their oldest education centers which lacked resources to operate the following year. The center was in Pervari, Siirt. Coincidentially, their annual operational budget of 86,000₺ to provide workshops to 750 children, matched my fundraising goal. I had never been to Siirt but I traveled to Southeastern Anatolia and loved it. I had made up my mind. I was going to run for TEGV.
Along with my biggest supporters, my daughters Anka and Ada got to work. Together, we made a list of my friends and determined strategies on how to engage each one of them. We wrote letters and messages and even produced a short video about my fundraiser. Myself and TEGV tirelessly promoted the campaign. As the word got out, donations started to pour in. In six weeks, my fundraiser had mobilized 144 people. Even my friends from college and colleagues in the States contributed through Turkish Philanthropy Funds. In the end, we ended up raising 188,000₺, way more than our initial goal. That translates to reaching 1,500 children, double the original amount.
All the while, I began my training sessions. I started at four days a week but later increased to six, never missing a single session. As it was impossible for me to exercise in the conditions that I would race in the North Pole, I tried to find regions with similar climate in Turkey. I wanted to test my clothing and equipment. The best option I could find was Çıldır Lake in Ardahan. The temperature was 23F, nowhere close to the North Pole, but at least the lake was frozen enough to run on. Along with physical training, I prepared myself mentally for this challenging journey.
After five months of training and fundraising, race day had arrived. I flew from Istanbul to Oslo, and then to Tromso, and finally arrived at one of the northernmost villages, Svalbard. From there, I flew with a Russian plane to the North Pole camp. I was finally there along with 54 other contestants from different nations. It was more exhausting yet more beautiful than I imagined. I was on the top of the world, literally standing on thick ice of the Arctic Ocean and watching the endless horizon. The run was a 3.3 km route. As the race started, I did my best not to think about the cold, and the fact that I was running on an ice sheet above the ocean. With frozen clothes on my back and all the while remembering the purpose of my race, I finally finished in 22nd place.
It’s a traditional celebration for North Pole runners to jump into the icy water through cracked ice after the race, and that’s what I did. Despite the cold and fatigue, I jumped into the freezing water with other contestants.
Later, as I returned to Turkey and visited the children in Pervari, I was greeted like family accompanied by “Welcome Ahmet Abi” signs. My hard work had paid off. My friends and family’s hard work had paid off. We had collectively come together to make an impact and it felt fantastic.