This story was originally published in the High Point Enterprise on Feb. 19, 2018.
Two High Point University alumnae are taking “go big or go home” to heart.
Jessica Wayashe, a 2011 graduate, is in the middle of running 230 miles across Haiti while Nikki Sanford, a 2013 graduate, is preparing for a 195-mile segment of a cross-country race to raise funds for multiple sclerosis.
Each race will feature terrain drastically different from where the women live. Each race also requires them to raise thousands of dollars for the respected causes.
And each race will test them like no other run.
Running across Haiti
Jessica Wayashe boarded a plane Friday morning headed to an island in the Caribbean. But the next week wouldn’t be full of naps on the beach, margaritas and fancy dinners. Instead, she, along with 28 other runners, were about to embark on a 230-mile run — yes, you read that correctly — across the country, north to south, through jungles, mountains and urban areas.
It’s part of the 2018 Run Across Haiti. The annual event is hosted by Work, an organization which aims to help families in Haiti get out of poverty. To date, the organization has raised $450,000 to help Haitian families get into dignified jobs.
Wayashe said she discovered Work on a Facebook video and immediately was hooked.
“As soon as I watched it, I knew it was something I wanted to do,” she said. “My mom knows how impulsive I am and was the influencer to say, ‘OK, before you sign up for this, you should sit on it for a little while. Make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.’”
She thought about it for two months. Wayashe already was a runner, having competed in sprint events during her time at High Point University. She’d also run the Boston Marathon as a charity runner for the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation in 2013 and 2014. That’s when she started loving distance running.
The Run Across Haiti became something she couldn’t get out of her head, and that’s how she knew it was important, she said. So she sent in her application. Work asked her questions about her running and fundraising experience, as well as her openness to engage in Haitian culture. Soon after submitting the application, she was accepted.
Each runner was asked to raise $5,000, which would go to help a small community outside of Port-au-Prince called Menelas with jobs and educational needs. Wayashe decided to challenge herself and bumped her goal up to $6,000. As of Friday afternoon, she’d raised $6,177.
Training for this sort of race was challenging and a major time commitment, she said.
“I just know this is something I wanted to do, so that helps me,” she said.
Race against MS
If you see a woman running in multiple heavy layers on a moderately cool day in Seattle, it may be Nikki Sanford.
She picked up running about five years ago because she said it was an easy workout to do in a time crunch. She worked her way up from a 5K to a couple marathons her senior year at High Point University.
“Ever since, I’ve fallen in love with distance running,” she said. “It’s a great way to relax and clear my head and do something active.”
Last summer, she set her sights on a new kind of race — an annual 3,100-mile relay run across the United States to raise funds and awareness for multiple sclerosis. The more she learned about MS Run the US, the more she wanted to participate. MS Run the US is an organization that sets up running events to raise money to support multiple sclerosis research.
“I think it would be a really good experience to run across a couple states and at the same time, support MS research and raise awareness and do something good while I’m spending all this time training,” Sanford said.
She signed up and began training for the race, which is set for April.
Each runner in MS Run the US is asked to raise $10,000, so in addition to planning out a training schedule, Sanford started brainstorming ways to gather donations. So far, she has set up a booth at races and other running-related events. She said her law firm — she’s a patent attorney at Baker Hostetler in Seattle — has been very supportive, both financially and through her training. Sanford is even reaching back to her alma mater to work with current HPU students about hosting fundraisers and awareness events.
One snag Sanford ran into was deciding how to prepare for her leg of the relay, which consisted of 195 miles over seven days across the deserts from Barstow, California, through to Mojave National Preserve to Las Vegas, Nevada. It’s a bit different than Seattle, she said, so she’s been layering up on her runs to prepare for the change in temperature.
“It’s uncomfortable, but it’s the only way I can think to simulate running in the heat,” she said. “I’ll wear a long-sleeve shirt and a couple jackets for my long runs.”
While she still has several weeks of intense workouts, she said she would recommend the experience to anybody interested in it.
“You don’t have to be an ultramarathoner to do it,” she said. “You just have to be able to put in the training and fundraise for the cause. I think that it’s something that is a great experience and very unique in the running sense too.”