Bahamian Runner To Run Abaco For The Environment
Bahamian “Ultra-Runner” Proposes to Run Length of Abaco as Fundraiser: 120 Miles, Non-stop
Can she run from the northern-most settlement of Great Abaco Island, Crown Haven, to the southern-most one, Sandy Point, 120-ish miles? And, if so, how long would it take? These are questions Bahamian Rhonda Claridge has been mulling over ever since she read an alarming report this fall and decided she wanted to raise money for Abaco’s local non-profit Friends of the Environment.
As reported in the British newspaper The Independent, coral reef ecosystems are not predicted to survive past this century. Professor Peter Sale of the University of Sydney, a top United Nations scientist who has studied the Great Barrier Reef for decades, explained that humankind’s burning of fossil fuels has led to warmer sea water temperatures and acidification, both of which are killing reefs
“The report stated that children today are likely to be the last generation to see coral reefs,” Claridge says. “Having been born in a country that has the third-largest barrier reef in the world, and that relies on coral reefs for both tourism and fishing, and having a personal connection to the magical underwater world of reefs, I was stunned.”
Claridge, 45, grew up in Nassau and spent many weekends with her family anchored off of an island, playing in the sea. “I feel incredibly fortunate to have had those experiences. One of my earliest memories is of swimming with my mother, wearing a mask … an image of some purple and yellow fairy basslets in a reef hole, caught in a ray of sunlight.”
She lived for a few years in Abaco and was an active member of Friends of the Environment, before moving to the high country of Southwestern Colorado, where she teaches English at Colorado Mesa University. “When you leave the Bahamas and come back, its rareness really strikes you. The sea is not only beautiful; it’s alive, and it supports the whole Caribbean.”
Over the last five years Claridge has discovered a talent for long-distance running or “ultrarunning”: “I don’t have any exceptional athletic skills, but I can hang in there a long time.” So far, she’s completed 10 100-mile races, with a podium finish in all but two. This year she was second among women in the reputedly most challenging mountain ultrarace of North America, Hardrock 100, with 66,000 feet of elevation change. “It’s a tremendous experience to travel a long way on foot. You can access places no one goes, both physical landscapes and mental ones.”
Limited to short visits to the islands, Claridge has wanted to contribute more to conservation of the Bahamian ecology, so she decided to raise money for Friends of the Environment over the holidays by running the length of Abaco’s largest island on January 5
“Friends largely facilitates and coordinates scientific research of the Bahamas, so that we get a big picture of changes that are occurring in our environment and have the hard evidence necessary for advocating new policies. Friends also devotes enormous resources to educating the next generation about our environment: Kids go snorkeling, pick up garbage, work alongside scientists. They are going to be in a position to manage and conserve our natural resources when they grow up.”
Though she acknowledges that it is difficult for a small island nation to alter the effects of global oil and gas use, Claridge feels that the Bahamian government could be more outspoken internationally about the impacts of carbon burning on our coral reefs, and more proactive at home about conserving our natural heritage.
She hopes that people will pledge currency per mile of the run, and that the very generous will double their pledges if she finishes in less than 25 hours. “It will be the longest distance that I’ve ever run, and I don’t know if I can make it under 25.” Running is a popular sport in the Abacos, and Claridge expects local children and adults to pace her for segments as she passes through various communities. “Anyone is welcome to come along, just don’t expect me to do all the talking.”
She says, though it may seem like a nutty endeavor, people are taking on similar challenges all the time all over the world. “My sister once waterskied from Nassau to the Exumas, for more than two hours. The American Diana Nyad set a world record swimming 100 miles from Bimini to Florida. I don’t know if any other Bahamians have run 100 miles, but I seriously doubt that anyone has ever run all of Abaco non-stop. Maybe I’ll set a record that others will break. If I’m lucky, I’ll see shooting stars during the night and Abaco parrots at dawn.”
To make a pledge, go to friendsoftheenvironment.org.charity, environment, health, islands, sports