Aunt Patricia Marches 100 km for Little Hearts

Could you walk or jog continuously for 24 hours?

It sounds pretty daunting, but that’s exactly what one of Little Hearts’ longtime supporters, Patricia Geeraerts, will do this week-end. Patricia is Tony’s sister; many of you will remember her from her time as a volunteer here at Little Hearts and on the fundraising team in Belgium, her visits to Cambodia, and her previous charity actions on our behalf.

A few years ago she took part in the dreaded Dodentocht (in Flemish, ‘March of the Dead’) for the first time, and now she tries to do it every year. The Dodentocht is a long-distance race held annually in Bornem, Belgium. The participants (roughly 13,000 of them) must walk or march over rugged, forested terrain to cover 100 km in one day. They start on Friday night at 9 pm and must make it to the finish line by the same time on Saturday in order to be recognized as winners. At least half of the walkers give up long before that. But Patricia has succeeded before, and this year she’ll once again raise funds for Little Hearts by receiving sponsorships for her participation in the race.

Runners are provided with an RFID tag and must transit through several checkpoints so that their position can be verified. That means you can track Patricia’s progress almost in real-time and virtually cheer her on. ‘I get great support from the kids themselves when I’m racing,’ says Patricia. ‘They cheer me on during my hike by posting videos, drawings and messages that I can see on Facebook whenever there’s a mobile signal. The gratitude of the whole Little Hearts team is huge.’

So, why do you do it, Patricia? ‘Well, I always wanted to run the Dodentocht, just to be able to tick it off my bucket list,’ she explains. ‘But now I’m addicted.’

What do you do to prepare for this gruelling event? ‘I exercise regularly by taking very long walks in parks and along the beach. I also do practice walks of up to 50 km in the weeks leading up to the race. But nothing quite prepares you for the real thing.’

What’s the most difficult part? ‘It all depends on the weather. I raced in very wet conditions once, braving the rain all night. But very hot weather can be even worse – you sweat and sweat and have to keep drinking every 10 minutes. The hardest stretch is the last 30 km. Besides being dead tired and having blisters on your feet, it becomes psychologically difficult to keep going. But as I approach the end, it is as if my batteries are recharged. It’s a very emotional moment when you cross the finish line. I can’t really describe it. But it gives me so much satisfaction time after time, especially because I know who I’m doing it for (you guys!) and I know that the money I’ve raised is going to a great cause like Little Hearts.’

How do you get sponsors? ‘Social media like Facebook and Instagram are great platforms to post my flyer to engage people. A few days before the start, I also send a personal WhatsApp to all my contacts. That takes a lot of time, but it pays off. Some sponsors wait until I actually make it across the finish line to make their contribution. That’s OK too!’

Her racing number this year is 998. Let’s hope it’s a lucky one! As you wake up late this weekend and shuffle to your kitchen in search of coffee, spare a thought for Patricia, who’s out there on the trail testing her endurance to the limit, and wish her well.

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