“Famous ultrarunner” used to be an oxymoron in this country, a descriptor as unheard of as, say, “famous vegan.” Somehow Scott Jurek has managed to turn both into realistic job titles. With the successful release last spring of his autobiography, Eat and Run (which came on the heels of his star turn in Christopher McDougall's runaway bestseller, Born To Run), the seven-time Western States 100 champion has earned a cult following in America's rapidly expanding trail running community, known as much for his ideas about animal-free performance nutrition as for his generous spirit both on and off the racecourse.
Next winter, Jurek is joining forces with the Himalayan Cataract Project and imagine1day to offer 14 runners the chance to join him on a 10-day voluntour and running expedition to Ethiopia. “I've been trying to find partners and projects that bring together my passion for running with my desire to give back,” says Jurek of the Accelerate Ethiopia program, a fundraising initiative launched today to support HCP, a group that supplies high-quality, low-cost eye care in the developing world and imagine1day, a Canadian non-profit working to provide all Ethiopians access to quality education funded free of foreign aid by 2030. “This trip allows runners to not just raise money through racing, but to experience an amazing culture and give back along the way.”
The trip, which runs from February 22 to March 3, 2012, is a unique opportunity to train and race with some of the world's best endurance athletes in one of the most stunning trail running settings on the planet. In addition to spending time with Jurek, participants will join Ethiopian superstars Gebre Gebremariam (winner of the 2010 New York City Marathon), Werknesh Kidane (world cross-country racing champion), and Haile Gebresalassie (two-time Olympic gold medal winner in the 10,000 meters) on runs in the rugged Gheralta Mountains, home to some of the world's oldest Christian churches. “Those three are legends,” says Jurek. “It's going to be a privilege just to be there with them. And all the participating runners will be able to hang out and pick our brains.” The trip will culminate with Ethiopia's first-ever trail half marathon, a race that Outside will be on the ground to cover and which will include at least 100 up-and-coming Ethiopian runners.
But the real opportunity of the trip is the chance to join in on HCP's three-day eye camp. Outside has previously covered HCP's efforts in Nepal, where American ophthalmologist Geoff Tabin and his Nepalese partner, Dr. Sanduk Ruit, perform cataract surgeries at remote eye camps in the Himalayan foothills. Having spent more than a decade restoring sight to thousands of Nepalese villagers, HCP has since broadened its efforts and has been conducting similar eye camps in Ethiopia since 2007. In February, the HCP eye camp in Tigray will serve more than 1,000 people. In addition to going trail running and visiting local villages and schools, participant runners will spend three days working with patients pre- and post-operation. “I'm really looking forward to the eye camps,” says Jurek, who is working with HCP for the first time. “From everything I've heard, the experience of witnessing people—many who have been blind for years—have their sight restored ... it's an unbelievable opportunity.”
As a media sponsor, Outside will be covering the run-up to Accelerate Ethiopia and reporting on the trip for the magazine. To find out more about how you can get involved as a running participant, visit accelerateethiopia.com.