Abu Dhabi teen turns Japanese odyssey into a family affair
When Abu Dhabi resident Veronique Bourbeau announced her ambition to become the first person to run the coast of Japan’s Honshu island, her daughter did not want to miss out on the adventure.
So they found the perfect solution – while Ms Bourbeau ran, 18-year-old Colombine rode behind on an electric bicycle pulling a trailer with their luggage.
The Canadian pair, who set off from a village near Mount Fuji a month ago, have reached the 1,000 kilometre mark on what will be a 3,500km journey. They are making their way up and down mountains and through cities including Nagoya, Kyoto, Nara, Osaka and Hiroshima.
“I want to show my daughter that nothing is impossible – you just have to believe in what you want to do, work for it and make it happen,” said 43-year-old Ms Bourbeau, who is running in support of the Abu Dhabi-based charity Operation Smile.
Ms Bourbeau, who is from Quebec and lives in Al Reef, caught the running bug nine years ago. “Back then I was intimidated by runners,” she said. “My husband bought me a treadmill until I gained the confidence to run outside with the ‘real runners’.”
When she moved to Abu Dhabi five years ago with her husband and two children, aged 18 and 15, Ms Bourbeau joined the league of the ultra-runners.
Three years ago, she entered a 160km race along the route of the Berlin Wall in Germany where she was the third female competitor to finish the event.
“It was a goal I’d never imagined possible,” she said. The race proved to be a landmark moment in more ways than one. One of the requirements to enter was a clean bill of health, but her doctor detected a heart abnormality and referred her to a cardiologist, who diagnosed a heart murmur.
“This murmur will grow, so we don’t know how long I’ll be able to continue running before I need an operation”, Ms Bourbeau said.
“For the next few months my mind was a roller coaster. I couldn’t imagine not being able to run. I decided to summon up all the energy that I have in me, and realise my dream – to run the length of a country.”
She gave up her embassy job in April to focus on training, putting in a 16 hours running, or 120km, a week and learning Japanese.
A keen runner, swimmer and goalkeeper, Colombine was physically prepared to cycle 50km to 60km a day through Japan.
When they set off on August 9, they planned to pitch their tent almost anywhere they could.
“But we understood quickly that we wanted a proper shower every night,” Ms Bourbeau said. “Now, we sleep at camping sites, but it’s challenging trying to find them on our route.”
So far, the pair have encountered typhoons, humidity “comparable to the UAE’s summer,” struggled up mountains and through road tunnels. They have been spurred on by the hospitality of the people they have met along the way.
“An old lady gave us five figs from her garden, because she said we were doing hard work,” Colombine said. “A family came up to us with water and candy, and another gave us energy gels and bars. People often stop their cars to give us water and invite us to have dinner and sleep in their homes. Japanese generosity is extremely impressive. We didn’t expect that at all.”
The mother-daughter team should arrive at its destination of Tokyo in two months. But Ms Bourbeau does not plan on giving up long-distance running.
“My ultimate goal is to run the planet,” she said. “To be able to achieve it, I will run one country at a time.”
Published: September 9, 2016 04:00 AM