Coming from a family of keen athletes, Liza Done always felt she should live up to their achievements, but never managed to develop a good relationship with running, until now that is.
Liza is now pounding the pavements again and is doing so with a spring in her step thanks to a life-changing holiday three years ago.
As soon as she set foot in Gambia, Liza fell in love with the country and its people and the experience both stole and broke her heart at the same time.
Despite spending only a week there the first time, it had such a profound effect on her life, she felt she wanted to do something to help this amazing country.
As a result she has returned to the country several times since that first trip. During her last visit, she met a woman called Rose Dawson who is the driving force behind the Bantaba Project – a community project to provide education and opportunities to learn new skills for people in rural Gambia.
After hearing about Rose’s plans for the centre, which it is hoped will become a blueprint for other community centre developments in Africa, Liza knew this was something she wanted to be involved with and decided she wanted to help raise money for this very important project.
To do that, Liza will be running 100 miles this year, divided over 13 events, kicking off with the Chichester Priory 10K race on Sunday.
“It’s more about raising awareness of the project,” explains Liza. “Gambia is one of those countries, you never go to once. If you speak to people they’ve been a third, a fourth time – it’s one of those countries.
“The people make you fall in love with Gambia, you go there and you want to go out and help.”
As proof of just how life-changing that trip has been, Liza is now doing a degree alongside her job as a company training manager so she can then go on to do a masters degree in east African politics.
The aim is that one day she will be able to go out there and set up her own project.
Running with it
She is now training for her 100 miles, and although she still finds running hard, having a truly good cause which will benefit from her efforts is spurring her on.
“I enjoy it when I do it. I did the Marwell 10K, running through the countryside lanes. I enjoy the actual run once I’m out there and enjoy running with lots of people.
“My mum and dad have done marathons, my brother’s done a marathon, but I have a love-hate relationship with running: I really want to be good at it, but I find it too difficult, but now I’ve got this really worthwhile campaign I hope eventually I will get to a place where I love running.
“I can do a really good five kilometres, but I keep having dreadful dreams that I can’t run the 10K properly. My partner is really supportive and I have some really good friends who are runners on Facebook who say ‘don’t worry about your time, it’s the first one – get out there and enjoy it’. I did 5K last weekend and so I’m hoping to push that up.”
Asked what she loves about Gambia, Liza says it is the people’s spirit in the face of such adversity which serves as a stark reminder to us all.
“The people are so deprived they have nothing, it is a totally poor country but the people are totally happy, they are happy in themselves,” she explains. “They are peaceful and have such a wonderful spirit and I haven’t met a child out there who doesn’t value their education.
“It is one of the few African countries that doesn’t have civil war and there is no fighting between Muslims and Christians.
“They are just happy and it’s very infectious, you get out there and think this is what life is supposed to be about – simple pleasures.
“Family is so important out there and it just reminds you what life should be about. They like dancing, drumming and singing, it’s central to their culture. I was speaking to one of our friends and I said ‘how are you always so happy?’ and he said ‘how can you be upset? You don’t miss anything if you haven’t got anything’.
“That’s why it was so life- changing.”