Footsteps to Inspire
I'm not a runner. Well, not really. I do trot gently along the Thames towpath on occasion. So why commit to running 16 km - the furthest I've ever run, by far? And not on the paved banks of a river - on the roasting sand of Monterrico beach, in Guatemala.
It's all because of Claire. We met when we were both living in Paris, 18 years ago - just before what would become the moment that would change her life forever. Claire was raped - beaten and left for dead - by a stranger, as she went home from work one night. I went with her to the hospital, stayed near her as she was brusquely examined, and treated for her extensive injuries.
No-one was caught - not until almost ten years later. Her fight with the French legal system lasted 6 more years. Now Claire is using her experience to make a difference to others lives.
To raise awareness and help beat the taboo surrounding sexual violence, she's running over 3000km of beach across 184 countries in support of rape survivors around the world.
So back to Guatemala: country 21 for Claire. A beautiful place, but one where, like so many others, sexual violence has its victims. A huge part of Claire's journey is meeting organisations which work with survivors, and with those who provide services for them, in each country.
With Claire, I traveled to a small community called El Progreso, around an hour out of the capital, Guatemala City. An organisation called Voces Vitales together with Paso a Paso had arranged for Claire to talk to a group of girls, aged between 11-14. Many of them come from violent homes. Some suffer sexual abuse. One brings her baby to school after being raped by 5 members of a gang. These girls are given lessons by Paso a Paso on self-esteem, on where to seek help, on staying safe. Hearing from a survivor like Claire means they know they are not alone. Some cry at her talk - others speak to her privately at the end, revealing horrifying home lives they've not told anyone about before. Most give her a heartfelt hug, before she leaves. They'll remember this visit - and hopefully gain knowledge and strength from it.
From El Progreso, to Monterrico, and a black sand beach with our names on it. The powerful waves match the powerful heat - even before 6 am, the temperature is over 30 degrees. Sometimes Claire runs alone, sometimes she's joined by other survivors, well wishers, or running enthusiasts. As the sun rose by the Pacific Ocean, it was just Claire and I who set off on our 16 km run.
To say conditions were tough, is an understatement. The heat and soft sand made it heavy going - packs of dogs and rubbish including occasional used syringes on the beach added an extra layer of difficulty. We did walk in parts - especially when the dogs chased us - and the total run took us around 3 hours. But we completed the challenge. 16 km of beach done - Claire once again demonstrating she's not only surviving, she's thriving.
Guatemala was a once in a lifetime experience - but sadly for me, the run is not. She's coming to the UK this summer, and I'm doing it all again in Burnham-on-Sea. Support of any kind is welcome, whether it's running, spreading her message, or helping fund her cause.
You can find out more about where the runs are happening, how to donate, and about Claire's story on her website
Details on how to run in Burnham-on-Sea on June 17th