HANOI - Determined to raise funds to build schools, libraries and offer scholarships to poor children in Vietnam, Vu Phuong Thanh will take part in the Four Deserts Grand Slam.
Always challenging herself, she will attempt to cross 1,000kms across the four harshest deserts in one calendar year, and hope to be the first woman in Southeast Asia to achieve this feat.
By now, she is already in Namibia, where she and other competitors of the Grand Slam will gather before starting the race on May 1. Namibia has been selected to host one of the world’s toughest endurance foot races, the Sahara Race, from 1 to 7 May.
The race is recognised as the world’s leading endurance footrace series by TIME magazine in 2009 and 2010, and by others as the "Ultimate test of human endurance”.
Thanh will have to run across the the Sahara in Egypt, known as the biggest and hottest desert (on May 1-8); the Gobi in China, which is the windiest (on June 19-25); the Atacama in Chile--the driest desert (on October 2-8); and the Antarctica, which is rated the coldest (on November 18-24).
In October last year, she raced in the Atacama Crossing desert run, a 250km self-sustaining race in the world’s driest desert to become the first Vietnamese female to complete such a run. She was also the youngest competitor of that race.
“After this race, I felt that life had become more meaningful. I have found more energy and have become more determined to achieve the goals in my life,” she said.
“While this race was the hardest and most challenging seven days in my life, I realised that there are many children in Việt Nam who live in unthinkable and harsh conditions on a day-to day-basis. Thus, I wanted to dedicate this race to these brave children and raise funds for a better life with the necessary education,” she said.
“I race to raise funds for Rainbow Bookcase, a grassroots organisation which brings books, builds schools and funds scholarships to the ethnic minority in northern Vietnam.
This time, she decided to take part in the Grand Slam because she wanted to complete the ultimate challenge and continue to contribute to help the community.
Thanh started to raise funds online before the race last year, calling friends from all over the world to donate money to help children in remote areas in Vietnam.
She received a lot of support from friends and organisations. She has now received VND120 million (US$5,400) to implement her humanitarian project.
She sent the money to the fund to provide scholarships, build libraries and schools for poor children in Điện Biên Province.
“Iron woman”To have free time to take part in the races, Thanh quit her job at the prestigious Bloomberg financial company in Singapore.
She wanted to live life to the fullest with her great passion.
To become such a courageous woman of today, Thanh made a lot of efforts. After graduating from high school in HCM City, Thanh studied abroad in three different countries, in the United Kingdom, Canada and Singapore.
“When I was younger, each time when I had jogging lessons in secondary school, I felt it was a torture. When I finished running a short distance, my feet would become very weary, my eyesight would go dim, and I felt terrible,” she recalls.
However, she became a different person just before her 20th birthday. She set a goal that she had to run half of a full marathon (21 km). When she was 23 in 2013, she set for herself another challenge. That was to take part in the Bali marathon in Indonesia, running 42kms. Without celebrating about the result after this marathon, in October 2014, she challenged herself again by taking part in the ‘Ultra Marathon The North Face 100’ in Singapore, running 100km.
Thanh said she could learn many new things after each marathon, and became more confident, and was inspired by the stories of other people who succeeded in the face of unsurmountable odds.
Author Thaddeus Lawrence, from Singapore, author of the book ‘Runaway Success’, once said to Thanh, “Yes, when I see you, I know that you can do it.”
His words motivated her greatly to achieve the biggest challenge of her life until now: Running 1000kms across the four harshest deserts in 2016.
With regard to training, she was following a rigorous training schedule while seeking advice from veterans in Singapore and Hong Kong, who had run the Four Deserts marathon.
She spent four hours in the gymnasium, ran several hours a day, while on some days she ran up to 12 hours per day.
A busy woman, she often takes part in workshops sharing experiences in marathon races at different places. She has regularly practiced at the “ironman” race in HCM City to train physically for the Grand Slam. She has also spent time taking part in some marathon races in Việt Nam.
“I want to share the experience with the Millennials who are entering the critical stage of our lives. We are the most privileged generation. We make up the biggest portion of our population. We are going to inherit an enormous amount of wealth from the Baby Boomers, who had scarified so much to build the life we are enjoying now,” she said
“We have the resources and we have time on our side. In fact, we have it easy. So, don’t be afraid to follow that impossibly wild thought which your mind cannot seem to get rid of. It will change your life and that of others in the best way. Be strong and courageous,” she added.