This was not your typical community 5K run/walk.
For a start, several of the local participants did not own a single pair of shoes, let alone running shoes. But this did not stop them from gamely participating and, let's be honest, neatly leaving their American counterparts in the dust.
I was recently an eyewitness to what I consider to be the most amazing community run I have ever experienced. During our July trip to volunteer for the Kellermann Foundation in southwestern Uganda, my team, which included such veteran Nevada County event planners as Dr. Sarah Woerner and Cathy Anderson-Meyers, helped to organize the first-ever community 5K run in Buhoma, Uganda.
When we first described the plans to our Ugandan hosts, I'd say there was limited enthusiasm for an event that seemingly held no purpose. Ugandan hospitality however being second to none, they were quick to accommodate our requests.
Announcements went out to invite representatives from the local Batwa Pygmy community, students, staff from the Bwindi Community Hospital and the Batwa Development program, both organizations founded by Nevada County's Dr. Scott Kellermann and his wife, Carol.
The course was definitely a little unorthodox. There are apparently no loop routes available in a town with a single road running through it, so we gamely set off on a 5K walk just to get to the starting point.
The starting line was filled with laughter and anticipation as all runners waited for the start signal. Hospital physicians, Batwa Development administrators looked just as excited to compete as the young Batwa students standing next to them. A palpable sense of camaraderie filled the crowd.
This alone seemed a wonderful accomplishment in a community where competition for life's precious resources often leads to contentious relationships. The Batwa in particular have historically ended up on the shorter end of stick and it was good to see them fully and confidently participating in this event.
Until roughly 20 years ago, the Batwa lived as hunter gatherers within the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest alongside the endangered mountain gorillas. After this forest was gazetted as an World Heritage Site, the Batwa were forced to live on the fringes, barely scraping by and living at the mercy of their Bakiga neighbors. In 2001, the plight of the Batwa became the focus of Dr. Kellermann and his wife Carol when they founded what became the Bwindi Community Hospital and the Batwa Development Program with a goal of healing, empowering and educating them.
The start of the race was signaled and off we went, some running, others "jogging" but all of us smiling broadly. We laughed a little at ourselves as onlookers laughed and waved back at us at us, no doubt wondering what the heck we were doing on a Saturday morning running down the road.
It was not what I'd call an easy run with a few good hill climbs and so many rocks to avoid, but it went quickly in my mind, perhaps because it was such a joyful experience. At the finish, there was great excitement as the winners were celebrated and all finishers congratulated. We had prizes for the first-, second- and third-place finishers for both men and women. It was a nice surprise to note that the winner's circle held representatives from each stakeholder group.
There was a broad consensus among the crowd that this would be the first of many community races. With the desire for obtaining a race T-shirt being a universal phenomenon and the locals being particularly impressed with the Kellermann Foundation T-shirts that our group wore, they hoped that perhaps in the future they, too, could have event T-shirts.
The next leg of this transglobal competition will take place here in Nevada County, with a 5k/10k run and 5k walk 8 a.m. Sunday at the Nevada County Sportsman's Club in Nevada City. Race day registration starts at 7 a.m.
Additional race information and registration can be found at www.Batwachallenge.com. All proceeds will go to the continued support of the Kellermann Foundation projects in southwestern Uganda.