Breaking a World Record with 10KSA

December 12, 201d5

The big day. Finally. So much planning and preparation and stress… but I think we’re ready to break a world record!!!

I was so excited to start this day and bring awareness to the women of Saudi and empower them… and help them break a world record!

I checked into Princess Noura University Sports Complex by 0800 with all my First Aid Team… A team of nurses and doctors from the university hospital would be joining us later in the day.

The day started out gorgeous (ended beautifully also!). The winter sun was out… warming us gently as the temperature wasn’t much above 10 degrees.

First thing, we signed in, got our 10KSA sweaters… and then went to the First Aid center and attempted to organize first aid supplies… which we didn’t have and wouldn’t have for hours yet until the University Hospital opened up and our physician and her team of nurses would bring them. I was seriously stressing that we wouldn’t get the first aid supplies and I was praying we wouldn’t have any emergencies before supplies arrived, and hopefully no emergencies at all! but with 10,000+ women scheduled to arrive, it seemed unlikely that would we end the day without any issues.

Mid-morning we put all our planning on hold to meet together with all the other volunteers (at least 2000 women!!) for an beautiful message from our fearless leader Princess Reema. So excited to start the event and start seeing people come around!)

Much of the morning and early afternoon was spent just wandering around the facility before the event actually started… checking out all the displays and booths and the various areas. There an Awareness Zone (where all the booths on health and wellness were set up), Nutrition (all the food… some of it was seriously gourmet!!!), Active (basically a full on gym set up with yoga center, spin class, zumba/dance classes, and active wear/food products, etc!), and finally the Fun Zone where Luxury Events had set up a photobooth, a carnival, clothes/artsy things to purchase, as well as a beautiful group painting women could participate in… it was lovely.

My favorite place was the Active Zone… the decoration was incredibly well done. And there was constantly music and laughter coming from within the zone as women participated in the various fitness classes…

At one point late in the afternoon when I actually had time to walk around and enjoy everything, the sun was setting over the Active zone and the sun shining through all the gauze and streamers and wooden supports… it was gorgeous!

I spent the whole day, from 0800 to nearly 2400 rapidly walking from one end of the sports complex to the other. Our main First Aid center was in the sports complex building at the far end, and completely at the other end of the complex was the Stadium where we had our main first aid outpost.

Finally… the most important part of the event… the highlight of the whole day.. the formation of the Worlds Largest Human Health Awareness ribbon. Around 7pm, women started lining up to be counted to go into the stadium to form the ribbon. Hundreds of volunteers had been recruited and trained to help with ribbon formation… they’d been scurrying around for hours getting organized… but trying to organize roughly 10,000 women is a monumental task! But they did so well!! The first aid volunteers joined all the women in the stadium, helping the other volunteers get the women organized in the ribbon, as well as being accessible in case of emergency.

There was beautiful inspirational music playing and the 10KSA theme song…

All the women were given pink tarha’s to wear to cover their heads… the Tarhas were beautiful with gorgeous Saudi themed prints on the ends… and the pink was a gorgeous fuschia color!!

I joined the ribbon also just before the final count… standing there with hopefully 10,000 women, united in anticipation… united in the uniqueness of our position in Saudi Arabia and the significance of this day and this moment for women… united in support of one another to raise awareness for a disease that devastates us all in some way… filled with hope…

Finally, the most inspirational moment of the day… the representative from Guiness World Records went on stage and presented Princess Reema and the women of Saudi Arabia with… the new world record!!!! 8,264 participants… the worlds largest human health awareness ribbon. And it was all women. All women living in Saudi Arabia… at this moment crushing the stereotype of a country known for its repression of women… a country filled with so many of the strongest and most ambitious and dedicated and inspirational women I’ve ever met.

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To be part of that moment… standing there with 8,264 women celebrating our strength and celebrating women coming together to empower each other and raise awareness about a horrific disease that impacts every single one of us in some way. My heart was so full. These women are incredible. And I am so blessed to have been a part of this day… and to see into their lives in this country…

Of all the opportuniities I’ve had in Saudi Arabia and the amazing experiences… this one is by far the best. I’ll never forget how it felt to stand there with all those women… I’ll never forget the beautiful women who organized the event and how they inspired me with their courage and strength… We are blessed. Truely blessed.

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Volunteering with 10KSA: Breast Cancer Awareness

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month.

As I was leaving North America, Breast Cancer Awareness events were in full swing all over Canada and the USA. I was really hoping that somehow, I could initiate or participate in a some type of event or activity to raise awareness in Saudi Arabia and have a positive impact on women’s lives.

In my previous year in Saudi, I’d seen some of the devastation of breast cancer among the women of Saudi, and in my experience, it seemed to hit so many of them and at such a young age as well. (Maybe that’s just because I work in a large chemotherapy clinic so my exposure to women with breast cancer will be quite high given the volume of patients we see on a daily basis.)

However, the sad truth is that Saudi Arabia, like all countries in the world, has significantly high rates of breast cancer. Unfortunately, awareness is not as high as it is in the Western World. Many women go undiagnosed for years until the symptoms of advanced disease bring them into the hospital for treatment which ultimately results in reduced survival and less positive treatment outcomes, as well as increased pain and suffering.

Many women also lack the education and the awareness to monitor their health and perform monthly self exams to monitor their health, or the awareness that a mother or sister or auntie with breast cancer could indicate a significantly increased risk that they themselves might develop breast cancer. They’re not educated that lifestyle factors such as a sedentary lifestyle and poor eating habits and unhealthy body weights increase their risk of developing cancer in general but also breast cancer. Many women also lack the access to resources such as family physicians, or proper medical care to monitor their health, assess and diagnose also.

So, my wish actually came true. The opportunity to volunteer for a large breast cancer awareness event came my way only a week or so after returning to Saudi, through a friend of a friend, who was organizing and recruiting all the volunteers for the event.

The event was being developed by an organization called 10KSA, a subdivision of a greater organization called Alf Khair, started by Princess Reema bint Bandar. The goal of Alf Khair is to empower the women and youth of Saudi Arabia, and to make the people of Saudi Arabia, the best they can be, and the countries greatest natural resource. 10KSA is a holistic health initiative, and the primary focus is raising health awareness throughout Saudi and the world. This would be 10KSA’s first event and breast cancer was the focus.

The event itself would be held in December and the goal was not only to focus on breast cancer, but also holistic health in general. And the highlight of the day was to be the formation of the world’s largest human health awareness ribbon. The current world record was held by India, but 10KSA was hoping to break that record and get 10,000 women together to form the new largest ribbon. The event would also focus on various other ways to promote health and wellness also though.

As it was to be a very large event, thousands of volunteers were required to run the event. I was hoping I could do some education on breast cancer, but unfortunately those roles were taken by the various hospitals and organizations holding awareness booths at the event.

I ended up joining the team of first Aid volunteers, originally as just one of the volunteers, but as I wanted to get more and more involved in the activity, it escalated into then becoming head volunteer of the First Aid team and planning/coordinating the First Aid Plan for the event as well as train the First Aid volunteers.

I still wanted to do more… so my friend suggested I help recruit volunteers and do some of the orientation sessions for them also. So I got to meet so many amazing Saudi women through this. And it was so fun to tell them about the event and share my passion for this with them… because then they would also get really excited and happy about this opportunity… it was just so inspiring to see them all coming together!

Altogether I think we recruited well over 3000 volutunteers. My first aid group made up a very small portion of this, roughly 30 volunteers in total, plus the team of doctors and nurses from the university hospital.

The weeks and months leading up to the event were ridiculously busy. I was working full time as well as trying to participate as much as possible in training sessions and planning for the event. Many evenings were spent running off after work to an office somewhere to orientate the volunteers to the purpose of the organization and the event and determine their role at the event, as well as assisting with task specific training once the women had been selected for various roles. But I thrived on every minute of it and loved the opportunity to interact with Saudi women who were excited to volunteer and participate in this potentially historical event…

Until this point, my interactions with Saudi women had been restricted largely to work, but this was a huge opportunity to work with them outside of work… to inspire them and be inspired by them… to work together to create something amazing for the women of Saudi… to feel strong and empowered together… It was beautiful!

The planning and promotion of the event lasted for a couple months… with a woman flying to Australia in a small plane even carrying the 10KSA logo on her plane when she stopped briefly at the Riyadh airport. The symbolic 10KSA Wings of Hope could be found at various venues throughout Riyadh… including shopping centers… and even at King Faisal Specialist Hospital for a few days!

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There was even a theme song created for the event which went on to win an award at the California International Shorts Festival as the best music video!

As the day to the event grew closer, my days filled up with work and training volunteers, and mostly… figuring out how first aid was going to work at the event and developing the first aid training program for the first aid volunteers!

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I met Princess Reema, a beautiful person with a vision for the people and especially the women of her country… I was so inspired by her and her goals and commitment to raising awareness and empowering women!

In general, being a part of the event and all the planning was just an incredible experience. I met so many women who inspired me. And to be part of such a major event organized by women for women… my heart was so full and happy!!

And in the final days leading up to the event, I made many trips to Princess Noura University, the largest all-female university in the world, so large it even had it’s own train system inside, to the sports complex where the event would be held. There was so much organizing to do yet… determining how first aid services would be available throughout a venue that large was quite a challenge. I met with the emergency doctors at the Princess Noura University Hospital to plan how we would provide support throughout the venue the day of the event… Fortunately, we would have a couple of doctors and a team of nurses from the university hospital to offer support (and supplies!!!) the day of the event, as my first aid volunteers would really only be providing very basic care in case of any emergency.

It was really  amazing to see the sports complex transformed into a health and wellness event, with amazing displays including beautiful photographs from Saudi and artwork by Saudi women… and an incredible Active center for promoting fitness and active lifestyles…

And of course, the massive stadium where the ribbon formation would happen. Princess Reema went up in a big lift up over the field to see what the view would be like for the photographers who would be photographing this historical event…

And the last day before the event, all the head volunteers and main organizers and supporters of the event, me at the complex for a last run through… and an amazing family photo.. it was so incredible for me to be there, with all those women, women dedicated to making a change in Saudi… I felt so blessed!!IMG_5847And that’s about it… bring on the big day!!!

Riyadh Half Marathon

December 4, 2015

Since returning back to Riyadh at the end of October, I’d not been overly active, but I had participated in a couple runs with the Riyadh Road Runners. And suddenly, it was time for their annual Half Marathon.

I’d hardly trained at all. Actually, let me clarify. I’d not trained at all for a half marathon. I’m an average runner. I run a couple 8-10kms runs a few times a week during a good running spell. But I’d not been running regularly for months now!

But hey, I’m totally game for a challenge. Plus, I had friends to run with. And how cool is it to run a half marathon out in the desert?!!!

It was a fresh cool morning as we headed out of the city to Dirab Golf Course where the race would be held. I was a bundle of nerves. But so pumped!

The air was fresh and clean and the grass was so green as we walked through the golf course, jittering in anticipation of the start.

 

And then… before I knew it… we were off!! We ran a couple kms through the golf course before turning left down a long road with a gentle incline to the top of a hill, sharp escarpments rising up ahead of us in the near distance… turning back the way we came before turning left again to run out over another not so gentle hill to the end of the course before returning back to the start… to do it all over again as that was just one roughly 10km lap of 21.1km total!

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That last hill was such a challenge. Silly me forgot my energy snacks for along the race so I was just completely out of energy, it was getting pretty warm in the sun at that point… and I don’t know how I kept going through it…

But finally I was on the home stretch… running up those last 500 meters or so… the finish line (and the clock in sight..) it was almost 2hours and 10 minutes and I so badly wanted to be under 2:10… so I dug deep and found some untapped energy source… and busted out a sprint to the finish line… to finish in 2:09:44 !!!!!!

I’ve never felt an endorphin rush quite like the one that comes from finishing a first major race… with a time you’re happy with… out in the desert… it was incredible and I feel so lucky to have been a part of that race!!!

Now… to plan for and train for the next one… definitely stepping it up to a full marathon next!