Marathon Man

Cana­dian beats brain clot, runs to honor Afghan women

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By AGENCE FRANCEPRESSE in Bamiyan, Afghanistan

Cross­ing the fin­ish line of Afghanistan’s Bamiyan marathon, hand in hand with a young fe­male run­ner from the coun­try, Canada’s famed “Marathon Man” felt a dou­ble vic­tory.

Just a year ear­lier, Martin Par­nell had been di­ag­nosed with a blood clot on the brain. Doc­tors put him in a coma to save his life, and it was un­clear if he would ever run again.

But while con­va­lesc­ing, he stum­bled across news of the first Afghan woman to run a marathon. In­spired, he made a prom­ise to him­self.

“I said ... if I get bet­ter and I can run again, and I can run marathons again, I will come to Afghanistan and run that marathon to sup­port those women that are free to run and are help­ing to change things,” he told AFP.

He was one of a hand­ful of for­eign­ers tak­ing part in the sec­ond edi­tion of the an­cient city’s marathon in the coun­try’s cen­tral high­lands: a loop that starts and ends at the base of the world fa­mous Bud­dha caves.

The route, at an al­ti­tude of al­most 3,000 me­ters, passes dusty vil­lages and is set against a back­drop of dusky-pink cliffs; sheep and don­keys am­ble freely across the land­scape.

Bamiyan is a rare oa­sis of tran­quil­lity, which has largely been spared the wrench­ing con­flict that af­flicts the rest of the coun­try.

The marathon, where both sexes com­pete to­gether in pub­lic, has be­come a sym­bol of free­dom for Afghan women.

For Kubra and others like her — 15 women took part in to­tal in­clud­ing six from Afghanistan — just the act of run­ning in pub­lic is con­tro­ver­sial, widely seen as a sub­ver­sive act.

Par­nell says he ad­vised her to set aside her nerves about tak­ing part and fo­cus on the road ahead, 10 min­utes at a time.

And while it was not his first race af­ter re­cov­er­ing — he com­peted in Cal­gary in May — it is one he won’t for­get.

“My best memory is hold­ing hands with Kubra as we ran across the line at 6 hours 52 min­utes,” the 60-year-old said.

Par­nell, known in Canada as the Marathon Man, sees the sport as a form of med­i­ta­tion and ad­mits he strug­gles when he’s un­able to run.

“One of the hard­est times was af­ter I was di­ag­nosed with the clot. I had dou­ble vi­sion and had to sit on my sofa. It was five months be­fore I could start run­ning again,” he said.

It hasn’t al­ways been his pas­sion — the re­tired min­ing engi­neer came to the sport late in life.

Par­nell says: “When I started in 2002 it cer­tainly filled a gap that was left af­ter the death of my wife, Wendy, due to can­cer. If I hadn’t found run­ning maybe I would have turned to some­thing less healthy like al­co­hol or drugs.”

In­stead he chan­neled his en­ergy into sport­ing chal­lenges, run­ning marathons around the world be­fore tak­ing on more gru­el­ing en­deav­ors such as the Cana­dian Death Race (125 kilo­me­ters) and the Lost Souls (160km).

He is also in the Guin­ness World Record books af­ter tak­ing part in the long­est games of net­ball (61 hours), lacrosse (24 hours) and five-a-side soc­cer (42 hours).

His an­tics are all in aid of char­ity. Af­ter a trip through Africa, he be­gan work­ing with NGO Right to Play, which aims to im­prove the lives of chil­dren through sport.

In 2010, he ran 250 marathons — cov­er­ing some 10,000km — in a year, and rais­ing $185,000 for char­ity.

Par­nell sees it as ev­ery­one’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to do what they can to help those less for­tu­nate.

“You must make a dif­fer­ence in the lives of the chil­dren or in the lives of other peo­ple. Do some­thing to make a dif­fer­ence.”

You must make a dif­fer­ence in the lives of the chil­dren or in the lives of other peo­ple.” Martin Par­nell, Canada’s ‘Marathon Man,’ on ev­ery­one’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to help those less for­tu­nate.

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