Canadian to run 125 km ultramarathon to support Gaza during COVID

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Russell Lavis at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. Image courtesy of Russell Lavis

While he's not quite as colourful as Clark Kent and Superman, Russell Lavis has his own Superman routine. In his day job, he's an event sales manager, but in his free time, the Toronto-based Lavis is an ultramarathon runner who raises money for charities.

The beneficiaries of Lavis' upcoming and most ambitious ultramarathon will be the people of Gaza. On Saturday, May 22, starting at 5 a.m., Lavis will attempt to run 125 kilometres -- yes, that's 125 kilometres, not a typo -- to help purchase emergency COVID equipment for Gaza's challenged health-care system.

The charitable project that Lavis will be supporting is aptly called "Help Gaza Breathe," and is sponsored by the CJPME Foundation and the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) Social Justice Fund. The project's overall fundraising target is $150,000, while the target for Lavis' run is $30,000.

So far $10,000 has been raised of the $30,000 goal.

Lavis will perform his superhuman trek in the streets of Toronto, centred around his residence in the Beaches neighbourhood. The endeavour will take about 16 hours, so while many of us complain how busy we are, Lavis will literally be "running from dawn to dusk."

The funds raised through Lavis' upcoming run will help purchase an "oxygen plant," a furnace-sized piece of medical equipment which is used to supply hospitals and fill medical-grade oxygen tanks. Like most of the world, Palestinians in Gaza have been hard hit by COVID, and ICUs and other medical facilities around the territory struggle to supply sufficient oxygen to the elevated number of COVID and other critically ill patients. 

Lavis was made aware of the difficult humanitarian situation facing Palestinians in Gaza through family members and other advocates for Palestinian human rights. 

"I hope that my run brings attention to the needs of the Palestinians: both the needs of their struggling health-care system under COVID, and the needs of the broader Palestinian society," says Lavis. 

Given existing COVID restrictions, Lavis' ultramarathon will necessarily be a private endeavour. He has planned his 125-kilometre route as several loops which return him to his home every 10-20 kilometres. There, supported by family, he will be able to eat and hydrate as needed to continue his run. 

Lavis' upcoming ultramarathon will be his third in support of Palestinian humanitarian needs. "Helping Palestinians in Gaza is something that's been on my heart for some time," he says.

"Gaza's hospitals struggle to care for coronavirus victims, while Palestinians struggle to enjoy their most basic freedoms. My run is just one way for Canadians to show their solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza." 

"Help Gaza Breathe" is a humanitarian campaign hosted by the CJPME Foundation, a charity which focuses on human rights and Indigenous rights. Last December, the Foundation collaborated with the PSAC Social Justice Fund -- which provided generous matching funds -- to launch the campaign. Donations to the campaign are tax deductible, and almost $100,000 has been raised to date. 

"We are thrilled to benefit from Russell's benevolence," says Thomas Woodley, secretary of the CJPME Foundation. "The Palestinians of Gaza desperately need this aid, and we're hoping that Russell's ultramarathon will give our project that final boost to meet our overall target of $150,000." 

While the plight of Palestinians is close to his heart, Lavis has also used his running talent to raise money for other causes. Last year, for example, he raised money for Sick Kids Hospital through the Isolation Run Movement. 

Lavis has not been running long. Encouraged by a friend, Lavis took up running recently, in 2018. After giving it a try, he found that not only did he have a talent for it, but it made him feel great. When he started running longer distances, he started looking for ways to use his talent for good. 

Lavis' 125-kilometre ultramarathon will be the longest one he has ever attempted -- his previous distance record was 100 km, completed last November. His training for the upcoming run began in December, and he averages well over 500 km running per month, not to mention cycling and other training he does. 

Lavis describes his running as a way to detach from the stresses of life, maintain his fitness, test his own personal limits, and try to do some good.

You can donate HERE. Donations will be processed by the CJPME Foundation, a Canadian charity. Tax-deductible receipts for gifts of $20 or more will be issued for Canadian donations.

Robert Massoud ran the much-missed, activist meeting space and independent community gallery, Beit Zatoun, located in the Toronto-iconic Mirvish Village before it was demolished to advance Toronto real estate.

Image courtesy of Russell Lavis

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