(Madison, Wisconsin USA) Two local women are teaming up to raise funds for the international humanitarian organizationDoctors Without Borders---and to compete for a different kind of podium finish at Ironman Wisconsin.
Meghan Walsh, a west-sider finalizing the adoption of a child from famine-stricken Ethiopia, and Amber Ault, a Schenk-Atwood resident finalizing her training for the September 7, 2008 Ironman Wisconsin, are working to win a $10,000 donation to Doctors Without Borders through the Janus Charity Challenge at Ironman Wisconsin.
“Clearly, we like taking on big projects, like world hunger and ridiculous endurance races,” laughs Ault, a sociologist who is a diversity worker at the University of Wisconsin by day and calls herself a “very unlikely athlete.”
“Although I’m unlikely to set any records on the Ironman Wisconsin course, we’re hoping to win the Janus Charity Challenge at this year’s Ironman, nonetheless. I’m thrilled that Ironman has this second kind of competition going---to compete for a $10,000.00 donation to a great cause makes the experience far more meaningful.”
Athletes at each Ironman race are given the opportunity to compete for donations to their favorite non-profit organizations from Janus Investments, an Ironman Partner. The donations go only to charity, and don’t support Ault or the Ironman event. Ault chose Doctors Without Borders because of her interest in its distribution of a “revolutionary” nutrient dense food to children dying of malnutrition in various parts of the world; a six-week course of treatment with the peanut-based concoction, sweetly called “Plumpy’nut,” can restore a child’s health---for the grand sum of $40.
“For a bit less than most endurance athletes pay for a canister of electrolyte replacement powder,” she says, “we can prevent a kid’s dying from lack of nutrition. Of course we need to go for it.”
The Plumpy Nut Ironman campaign, as Ault and Walsh are calling it, is made even more meaningful by Walsh’s close connection to Ethiopia, one of the countries in which Doctors Without Borders is currently working to deliver Plumpy’nut. Her adoptive son, Ezkeiel, comes from the southern region of Ethiopia.
“The situation there is dire,” says Walsh, an anthropologist who teaches social sciences at Monona Grove High School. “Babies are put on scales in feeding centers to determine which, among the malnourished, is closest enough to death to “qualify” to be treated with Plumpy’nut. It’s amazing what this therapeutic food can do, but more of it needs to be produced and distributed so that it can be used to prevent kids suffering from serious malnutrition from getting worse.
“Plumpy’nut has a long shelf life, doesn’t need to be mixed with water, can be given to kids at home by their mothers, and is incredibly cost effective; $40 worth of treatment turns a child’s health around.”
Both Ault and Walsh have been impressed by Doctors Without Borders as an organization recognized with a Nobel Peace Prize for its work on health issues around the globe, and for its record of devoting an impressive percentage of its income to direct service---hence their decision to focus their fundraising in that direction. They’ve also been moved by the lengths to which families in famine and drought-stricken areas of Africa and Asia go to get their children to the feeding centers run by Doctors Without Borders.
“Women are walking overnight, carrying their severely ill children endless hours to get to a Doctors Without Borders feeding station to pick up a week’s supply of Plumpy’nut, turn around and carry it and the child home” explains Ault. “Ironman is a long trip, but it’s one we have a privilege of choosing to take, and doesn’t have these kinds of stakes. “
While Ault is preparing to go the 140.6 mile distance of Ironman in the dog days of summer, Walsh is preparing for a longer journey, the one that will allow her to meet her son for the first time and bring him back to Madison in August. They are hoping that in coming years they’ll be able to tell Ezkeiel about a Janus Charity Challenge win at Ironman Wisconsin as part of his welcoming celebration.
“The world is a smaller place than we often believe,” says Walsh, “ and we are all connected. The world my family and I are creating for Ezkeiel is one in which those connections, and our sense of responsibility for each other’s welfare, are a part of daily life. Our building this fund for Doctors Without Borders, and our effort to win the $10,000 donation for them through Amber’s Ironman Charity Challenge effort is part of that commitment to making our world a better one. People have been donating from across the country, and the sense of people working together to make a great impact on a solvable human problem is inspiring.”
As the donations to the Plumpy Nut Ironman fund, large and small, roll in, they inspire Ault to keep on with her training, a process she calls variably “daunting” and “rewarding.’ “When it gets tough,” she says, “I think of those women carrying their children in their arms across difficult terrain---no spectators, no water stations, no medics on the course to assist them, and no choice but to move forward---and I keep going. We are their aid station,” she remarks. “I’m looking forward to seeing Meghan holding Ezkeiel at the Ironman finish line September 7, as a reminder of how our worlds are connected in amazing ways, even when we’re all on our own journeys.”
To make a donation to Ault’s Wisconsin Ironman Janus Charity Challenge go directly to this website: https://www.kintera.org/faf/donorReg/donorPledge.asp?ievent=250249&supid=225436667 If you want to donate directly through Doctors Without Borders, you can do that here: http://www.firstgiving.com/amberault . Help these women win one for humanity!