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It’s hard to predict when the Australian bushfires that have ravaged the country since September will finally give the devastated communities a break. As of January 18th, there were still 69 active fires in New South Wales—one of the hardest hit states—and tens of millions of acres burned nationwide. Much-needed rain has offered some relief to the fire-stricken areas in the past week—though not without contributing its own set of challenges, such as flooding and massive hail in some areas.
This severe weather inundating country of Australia has left many people worldwide wondering how they can help.
Including Australian ultrarunner Samantha Gash, who has had to limit her time outdoors with her toddler due to the intense smoke. Gash decided to team up with fitness entrepreneur Nic Davidson, Strava, and Lululemon to offer some relief of their own. From January 18th through midnight on January 19th they hosted the Relief Run, a virtual 5k and half marathon with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the Australian Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery Fund.
By the end of the weekend nearly 20,000 people from 76 countries on every continent ran to help people devastated by the bushfires and in the end raised $1.1 million. Using the tag #reliefrun, participants showed proof that they showed up on Instagram. They ran on their own, with partners, in teams, in the snow, in the heat, at dawn, at dusk, and even during other races they were already competing in (like the Houston Half, the Rock N’ Roll Half, or the NYRR Fred Lebow Half Marathon).
“I believe people want to be part of something that is positive, collaborative, and involves using what we have at our disposal,” says Gash. “For runners, that is our footsteps and our community of runners.”
Running for charity is something that Gash is very familiar with. In 2012 she decided to use her long-distance running career for social good, starting with a three and a half day 379km run through the Simpson Desert that raised $33,000 for Save the Children Australia. In 2016, she ran 3253km across India over 76 days as an ambassador for World Vision, a humanitarian organization that aims to help impoverished children and families. She is also an ambassador for numerous other organizations and a motivational speaker. So it comes as no surprise that she’d use her humanitarian spirit to rally the support of the global running community in such a big way with Relief Run.
According to the Red Cross, they will use donations like those from the Relief Run, to offer assistance to people who have lost their homes or loved ones. “We are working hard to ensure the generous donations from the Australian community and others around the world are used in the best way possible to help people and communities cope with the fires and recover well,” says Red Cross Chief Executive Officer Judy Slatyer. They will continue to provide psychological first aid, food, water, and other relief supplies to fire-affected communities and have committed to delivering tailored recovery programs to those areas for at least the next three years.