x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Ultra-marathon man puts kids back on their feet

Palestinian children benefit from altruistic runner's fundraising. 51-year-old Dubai expatriate raised over Dh20,000 for the Palestinian Children's Relief Fund by running a marathon on each of the seven continents in just 28 days.

Wendelin Lauxen at the marathon in Antarctica this year. He says the thought of the Palestinian children keeps him running.
Wendelin Lauxen at the marathon in Antarctica this year. He says the thought of the Palestinian children keeps him running.

When Wendelin Lauxen was trekking along the rough trails of Queensland, Australia, what kept him going was the thought of children in Palestine.

"You do face some challenges along the way, but when you think about the children in Gaza, they cannot even run," he said. "I think about how I want to help them get back on their feet."

Throughout his journey Mr Lauxen visualised the finish line and what crossing it would mean. In April, he completed a marathon on each of the seven continents in just 28 days, setting a Guinness World Record. Three months later an American, Donald Kern, completed the feat in 25 days.

Mr Lauxen, 51, was intent on bringing the record back to the UAE, and the plight of the Palestinian children inspired him to do it before the year was over. On October 31, he set out to the United States for the first marathon.

Throughout both ventures, Mr Lauxen used a dedicated website to raise funds for the Palestine Children's Relief Fund (PCRF) and the Little Wings Foundation. He raised €5,200 (Dh24,690) and was given supplies by medical vendors in Germany to build a prosthesis valued at €6,000.

"Some people will think it's only €5,000 and a prosthesis, but every bit matters," Mr Lauxen said.

This is not the first time the altruistic athlete has helped children with disabilities. In 2010, Mr Lauxen ran across the seven emirates in 12 days - 575 kilometres. Through his initiative, Oday Al Jamal, a boy injured by a bomb in Gaza, was fitted with a prosthetic leg.

Mr Lauxen is in talks with the Little Wings Foundation and the PCRF to help other children.

Acknowledging the expenses it took to make the travel arrangements for this expedition, Mr Lauxen said he would not have been able to make the same contributions simply by transferring money from his bank account. The father of two said many people he interacted with during his trip were inspired by his cause.

"Some people I spoke to made direct donations to the PCRF," he said. "It's also very important for me to trust [the charity] and know where the money is going."

Mazen Aloul of the PCRF agreed.

"It not only helps raise awareness, but you can see the results," he said. "When you bring in the children and hear their stories, it really inspires you to get involved."

The PCRF has 20 chapters worldwide and also facilitates the travel of doctors to Palestine to deliver free medical aid through weekly missions. In cases where children need urgent care and the set-up does not allow for it, the PCRF arranges for transportation abroad. So far, 63 children have been treated in the UAE.

Dr Marc Sinclair, a paediatric orthopaedic surgeon and founder of the Little Wings Foundation, said it was mostly these projects that help children receive the care they need.

"We've been blessed by the people who make these donations," he said. "About 80 per cent of what we receive comes from these kind of initiatives. It doesn't have to be something like this; even a small gesture can go a long way ... the real message here is that everybody can do something."

After completing the challenge in 21 days, Mr Lauxen is sending the required documents to the Guinness office and is confident that his achievement will be noted.

For the record to be properly registered with Guinness, the marathons have to be official marathons, organised independently.

Mr Lauxen's next venture is to make the seven-emirate marathon an official event.

"Whether people want to run for just a few kilometres or the whole thing, it would be an awareness-raising event about the importance of staying fit," he said. "It is something that I hope all the emirates of the UAE could participate in, together."