Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Ratanak 2012 5km Walkathon

May 17, 2010

 “ For a marathon runner, Boston is the place to be. Three months ago, I noticed my training times were on pace to qualify me for the 2011 Boston Marathon. I kept this to myself, but qualifying for the event became my goal. One day while running, I decided to aim for Boston and use the knowledge, experience, contacts and credibility to organize a small 5km walk/run for Ratanak International.”

June 6, 2011

“500,000 people came to Boston to watch the marathon. $125 million dollars were generated for the city. It caused me to dream of having that kind of support for Ratanak International. I dreamed that one day could be set aside in the many places Ratanak has reached. I thought of Mississauga, Toronto, Vancouver, Saskatchewan, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Buffalo, Calgary, England, Ireland, Australia, and even Cambodia. I saw the girls from NewSong taking part in their own 5km walk. It would be a day when people around the world could walk or run in support of those who cannot. A day that is coming!”

As a boy, I remember watching The Odd Couple on TV. The characters were Oscar and Felix. In my own life recently, I was part of a couple that, if not odd, was definitely different. The Felix of this partnership is Paul, Toronto Ratanak representative.

And the Oscar is me, Larry, Ratanak volunteer.

The modern Felix loves music, plays the guitar and his house is full of Beatles memorabilia.
The modern Oscar loves sports and has tried every one; his house still has old hockey equipment and even his old boxing gloves.
The modern Felix works for a city and is a computer genius.
The modern Oscar works for a billion-dollar corporation and is constantly asking one of his daughters for help on the computer.
The modern Felix took part in one bike race - without endangering Lance Armstrong’s records.
The modern Oscar has run many races, and although he’s never quite met the high standards his daughters expect of him, has always finished in the top half of each race.
The modern Felix is a man who smiles all the time and is full of grace.
The modern Oscar rarely smiles, and longs for and admires people who have so much grace.
The modern Felix is optimistic and stays cool under pressure.
The modern Oscar is realistic and can unravel when pressure comes his way.

Putting our skills together, we were able to bring my dream to life: on June 2 in Erindale Park, Mississauga, we held the first-ever Ratanak 5km walkathon. We also had great support from our families and the City of Mississauga staff, and the support and prayers of the Toronto Core Group.

My first venture with Paul was to open a bank account to ensure proper bookkeeping for the event. Paul, always a planner, booked an appointment with a bank representative and off we went. Two minutes in, things were not going well: the bank employee asked to see a letter from the government proving Ratanak’s charitable status. (We hadn’t brought it with us.) We left the bank and wondered what to do next. We walked into another bank without an appointment and waited a while, but we were able to leave with what we needed.

Looking back, I realize this was the way most things went for this event. Paul took over the registration and had more than a few challenges in setting up the website. For me, one of the most challenging days was the day before the event. I had the day off work and had a long list of last-minute stops. For people who do not live in Toronto, the weather that day may have been the worst I can remember. It rained the whole day, heavy rain that comes in sideways, leaving you soaked and shivering within seconds. The wind reached 80 kph, and was strong enough to move my van on the highway. I got drenched at each stop and had trouble seeing the road through the rain. I stopped listening to the weather forecast for Saturday because I pictured Paul and myself being the only two people at the event. The City of Mississauga sent me three emails voicing their concerns about how the “inclement weather” would affect the event.

But the lowest point happened on Friday night. Gloria, my beautiful and amazing wife, and I set out to measure and mark the course. The rain and wind did not relent; parts of the course were full of water, so staying dry was not an option. A short way after the 2km mark we had to stop. Water from the Credit River had flooded onto the course and there was no way to walk through the knee-deep flood. Going home, I thought to myself that this event may become the Ratanak 4.2km walkathon. Earlier in the day, I thought maybe Satan had the weather for today, but I trusted God would reserve the weather for tomorrow. We had set the date months in advance when the weather was unpredictable. I had trusted that God would provide a nice day.

After returning home, I gathered my courage and looked at the Weather Network. The rain was supposed to stop at four o'clock in the morning. It was to start again at noon. I thought to myself that God had indeed set aside this place in time for an event to bless His precious children of Cambodia.

A few more snags awaited me on the day of the event. The 401 west was closed and some volunteers were a few minutes later than planned. My stopwatch refused to start, so we decided to time the event with the clock on Gloria’s phone. After a bit more juggling, the event was ready to start. Then the participants were off.

Fifty-five people took part. No records fell, but a few people ran impressive times. Runners always ask each other about their best times, and it makes me think of a shirt someone wore in a recent race. The shirt said, “Ask me about my best time.” I loved the answer: “My best time is the time I raised enough money to send a child with cancer to camp for a week.” The best time on Saturday was a group of amazing participants who braved a chilly, overcast day, an equally amazing group of volunteers who put up with me patiently and lovingly, and my “Felix” who registered and tracked donations and even checked people off as they finished. The best time was knowing that 55 people walked a total of 275 km, and raised over Seven Thousand dollars to help many children in Cambodia get a second chance in life.

I always see images in the races I run and write about them. Because I was busy on Saturday, I only saw one, yet it is an extremely powerful and beautiful image. My sister-in-law, Natalie, brought her almost-two-year-old daughter, beautiful Evangeline, to take part in the event. Natalie ran most of the race and carried Evangeline on her back.

I was standing near the finish line to greet each participant. When Evangeline saw me, she made a fuss and told Natalie she wanted to run to Uncle Larry. I watched in amazement as Natalie and my wife, Gloria, each took one of Evangeline’s hands, and the three of them finished the race running together. I thought to myself that this a picture of what is happening today. Money raised from events like this take exploited children out of places of danger and place them safely on the back of someone who loves them and is willing to carry them when they are weak and vulnerable. In time, the children will heal enough and be able to run on either side of the people who love them. Although Evangeline couldn’t run by herself on Saturday, one day she’ll be able to. In Cambodia this is already happening, as some of the very first Newsong girls, girls who have been horrifically abused, have been accepted and are going to University.

Gary Haugen, the founder of International Justice Mission and author of the book Good News About Injustice, starts his book with the words, “As the father of four small children I find myself thinking more and more about the core gift I would like to give them to take into the world.” He went onto say he wished to give them courage.

As the father of two not-so-small children, I would like to give them a gift. The gift I would like to give is “to look down, and not up.” By that, I mean, “Don’t look up at people who are more successful or have more money than you. Don’t look up at people who are more famous or more attractive than you. Look down toward people who have less than you and who need help. Look down and offer whatever you can: your time, your money, your love. Look down and thank God for each and every blessing He has given you, and share them with people who need them most.”

My two daughters continually amaze me. They both are light years ahead of where I was in terms of helping others when I was their ages. Katarina wrote about the Michael Jackson song “Man in the Mirror” and what it meant to her. She was singled out for praise from her teacher for her depth of understanding at such a young age.

An idea in the note we handed out to each participant came from Isabella. We gave out this note, along with a ball on Saturday:

“Two Dollars or Priceless”

Thank you for taking the time and effort to participate in the first-ever Ratanak 5km walkathon. Take this gift from us as a reward, a prize for your hard work. I know it does not look like very much, but please read on!

Today this event benefited children in Cambodia whose start in life was something most of us cannot even imagine.

The shirt you were given has the words “Not Forgotten” written on it. Ratanak International, the non-profit organization that will receive 100% of today’s donations, has not forgotten these children. Each volunteer who helped with today’s event has not forgotten these children.

The ball you are holding was bought at a dollar store. The purchase price for all of these balls could have purchased two children in Cambodia. This ball has no value; it is a disposable item. The children you walked for today, at one time, had a lot in common with this ball, but NOT ANYMORE!

These are the words from a ten-year-old girl born in Canada. Her hope is that she can help a ten-year-old girl in Cambodia. This is what this ball means to her. My hope is that, for some of you, her words will ring true:

“This ball is a clear and see-through plastic. It has hundreds of little pieces surrounding a little ball inside the rubber. When you bounce the ball, the little ball inside the big ball lights up very bright and glows for a very long time.”

“The little ball represents the exploited children in Cambodia. The many little pieces surrounding the little ball represent all the people who work to help free these children. When the children are free, the light is able to shine brightly through them and eventually by them.”

So what is next for me? In Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, Solomon talks about a time for everything. Verse 3 talks about a time to kill and a time to heal. Verse 8 talks about a time for war and a time for peace.

I have been to war twice in the last three weeks. It has taken a heavy toll on me. It took my body ten full days to recover from the Toronto Marathon. Planning the Ratanak 5km was a different sort of stress. I have given my heart and soul for the children of Cambodia for the last six years. I am taking the summer off; I think the word is a sabbatical. I am watching my daughter play soccer and my other daughter take Zumba classes. We are planning to go to the beach. I am going to try to catch up on a mountain of yard work. I may rework some old writings. I am going to pray. I am going to rest, and I am going to come back in September hopefully a stronger, more efficient and wiser advocate.

After the last marathon I wrote that it might be my last. A lady named Annie asked me twice if this was so and even had Gloria ask me. I ran 10 seconds slower than a Boston qualifying time so the Boston Marathon 2013 is not an option for me. Annie, I still don’t know, although I admit I have googled upcoming marathons in American cities for May 2013. Cleveland has one that fits my work schedule and has a question on their web page encouraging participants to send them the reason they choose to run in this marathon, with publicity and prizes being sent to inspirational stories. Annie, stay tuned.

In closing, my amazing editor told me amidst her sea of corrections in my last writing that perhaps I should identify what my Core Group is, as people reading this may not know what the words mean. My rebellious nature raised up and I ignored this suggestion. Sorry if I leave anyone out.

The Toronto Ratanak Core Group was founded by:

Lisa, a lady with a background in finance
Here are some of the people in our group
Paul, who works for the city
Jessika, who works in a law firm
Me, the marathon runner
Tori, an Engineering student who designs and sells the Not-Forgotten shirts
John, who works with seniors
Joy, a piano teacher
Linda-Ruth, a lawyer who decided to be a stay-at-home mother to raise her daughter
Janice, who works in business
Sarah, who works for another city and creates beautiful jewellery to raise money for Ratanak in her spare time
Esther, an acupuncturist
Mary, who works with challenged children
Mir-ha, a school teacher
Susan, who helps troubled women
Hilary, a pastor`s wife
Phil, I do not know his vocation but he is a great photographer
Isabelle, a teacher

If I were putting together a group to raise awareness for the children in Cambodia, I would start with a lawyer, a doctor, a police officer, a soldier, a pastor, a politician, many counsellors, and I would add a few movie stars, rock stars and a billionaire or two. This is the army I would pick to fight for the children in Cambodia. Funny how things work in God’s economy. My group has very few, if any, from my list. What we have is a united group that believes we are weak and insignificant individually, but together with God leading us, we are crazy enough to believe we can make a difference in this world.

The man who helped me set up this blog was amazed at how many hits it has received, as several websites have picked it up, allowing access to people in parts of the world I never could have imagined. Possibly you are one of them. Possibly you are moved, and even challenged by some of this writing. Possibly you are wondering what there is you can do to help someone but think you don`t have the skills.Cambodia may not be your calling. Many other parts of the world need people to help.I encourage you to take whatever you have to offer and jump in wholeheartedly. You will never regret this decision.


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