// Motivation and inspiration: the Vanuatu Round Island Relay

by Heidi Dening

Personal trainers should always look for fresh, new ways to inspire clients and encourage them to reach their fitness goals. I have always found that an ever changing variety of exercises and locations helps to maintain interest, as does a tangible goal. Until a few years ago I had unintentionally restricted these methods to my local surroundings, but then a chance sighting of an advert captured my imagination.

I first developed a bond with the tropical archipelagos of Vanuatu when I taught physical education and dance there when I was twenty-one, but I hadn’t returned since.

Then, in 2001 I saw an advert for a race called the Vanuatu Round Island Relay, and this set the wheels in motion for the rekindling of my love with the islands. Some of my personal training clients expressed their interest in the race, and before long we had put a package together. The appeal of heading to the sunny island of Port Vila where the relay is held was all the greater because the race is run during the Australian winter! It was the first year that the people of Vanuatu, the Ni-Vanuatu, had opened the race up to international teams – before this it had always been a celebration of their independence day.

World famous in Vanuatu

The first time we took part the locals seemed to be expecting us to be a team of super fit Cathy Freemans, but we were far from it; some of the team was reasonably fit, but not all of it – yet! A film crew had even been organised to meet us when we disembarked the plane as we were the first international team to take part in the race – making us ‘world famous in Vanuatu’!

Each team has ten people, and in the first year I led one team. In subsequent years I have taken two, one running team, and one more leisurely walk-jog team. This allows clients of all fitness levels to take part and prevents the event from being elitist – participation is the main thing, and every client gets the opportunity to increase their fitness levels with a definite goal in sight. Watching clients with minimal previous running experience progress to the stage where they are running legs of a relay race is immensely satisfying.

The Vanuatu Round Island Relay is 140km, and takes place over the course of one day. The shortest section of the relay is 11.7km, and the longest is 16km. The first sections are difficult because they are very hilly, and the middle sections are also hard because they are run in the middle of the day, and even though the race is held during the Vanuatuan winter, it’s still hot and humid. The final sections are a little flatter, but it’s late in the day by the time they are run and the team will have been awake since four o’clock in the morning, so those who run the end sections may well have been up for fourteen hours before even starting to run.

Regardless of how exhausting each leg of the relay may be, it is always motivating to run through all the little villages which the locals have spent days decorating with beautiful palm fronds and bougainvillea. They set up stalls and have sprinklers showering water for us to run through – they stand out all day and cheer so hard that we feel like we’re part of the Olympic torch relay; the village of one of the schools we sponsored even flies an Aussie flag when we run through! That hospitality really makes us feel part of the event.

Fun running and fund-raising

In the first year we took part, one of the guys in our team who had never run any distance before received such a rapturous reception from villagers upon completing his leg of the relay that he was moved to donate a thousand dollars to the village medical centre. The villagers couldn’t believe that a 55 year old man was even running the race – until then it had only been run by the barefoot island kids who are really fit. From then on I decided that we should increase what we did for the Ni-Vanuatu. Despite its ‘paradise island’ image, Vanuatu is a third world nation.

The following year we decided to raise money for a charity for the children, because the kids support us with the biggest smiles, claps and cheers. Their schools are in poor condition and educational equipment is very scarce, so I decided to try and help. The response from my clients was amazing and they donated text books, packets of pens, exercise books and all sorts of educational material.

I negotiated some free excess baggage with Air Vanuatu and that year we took 120 kilos of educational materials for the kids and resources for the teachers. We divided the contributions between two schools and we got an incredible welcoming concert in our honour!

Over a hundred islands make up the archipelagos of Vanuatu. In 2004 we raised money to bring ten school kids over from one of the remote islands to Port Vila so that they could participate in their national event. These kids never get the chance to leave their island, so to spend three nights in their capital city was a great opportunity for them and they even went on to win the event for their age category! They were over the moon as they got to take prize money back to their school, and we gave them other resources to take back as well.

One of the great things about how everything has worked out is that it hasn’t just been about the people that have gone on the trip – all of my clients have got involved and donated educational materials or money for the kids. There are so many opportunities for our industry to do things like this – it doesn’t have to be on a big scale like the Vanuatu trip, there are plenty of worthy causes closer to home. Simple events, like sponsored soccer games with clients, can be fun, promote health and fitness and help charity at the same time.

Outdoor exercise, like the relay, is also a good way of getting people who feel uncomfortable in fitness facilities into an arena where they don’t feel intimidated. Australia and New Zealand offer fantastic opportunities for outdoor activity and clients should be encouraged to exercise in the fresh air, at least some of the time. Most things that personal trainers do in the gym can be transferred to the outdoor environment, and working out in scenic surroundings can be very motivating for trainers and clients alike.

Heidi Dening, BEd (PE) GradDipEd (PE)
A former physical education teacher, Heidi left the education system to open Sydney’s first outdoor health and fitness company of its kind. After eight successful years, Jump Start has earned a solid and proud reputation as a leading outdoor personal training business. Heidi is also the president of the Personal Trainers Council of NSW.

NETWORK • SPRING 2006 • PP36-38