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My Daughter’s Marathon Death March in Japan

My Daughter is a Japanese Boy Scout

My 18 year old daughter is in Japan as an exchange student. It has been a life changing experience in so many ways for her. Besides the obvious guts it takes to travel to a foreign country, attend high school there and learn a new language, she also decided to join the boy scouts so she could get her outdoor adventure fix. Her first boy scout trip was to camp out in a typhoon so they could go vertical caving. She had never gone caving before but rappelling into a cave was no big deal for this experienced climber. She wore the right clothing too and was the only camper who wasn’t on the verge of getting hypothermic. She had to keep lending out her fleece jacket to warm up the other campers wearing cotton. The typhoon was blowing their tents away so they had to huddle in some small shed building. She thought it was AWESOME. That’s my girl!

Rappelling into a cave in Japan.

My daughter went vertical caving in Japan during a typhoon!

When my daughter joined the nordic ski team in 11th grade, she was concerned about the amount of running involved. She assumed she inherited my pathetic lungs. Even at the peak of fitness as a 16 year old gymnast, I couldn’t get around the track once without gasping for air and having pains in my side. But once she started running, she realized it was just in her head and was able to jog for modest distances, nothing more than perhaps 30-40 minutes.

100km Japanese Marathon Race? Why Not?

My daughter dressed in her Japanese boy scout uniform

My daughter’s Japanese Boy Scout uniform.

Imagine my surprise when she signed up to do a 100 kilometer race with her boy scout troop! She never did any kind of marathon training. She had participated in the dance team at the Japanese high school for the first half of the school year, so she was in decent shape, but wasn’t doing any kind of cross country training at all. The lazy teenager I used to know was gone. Instead, on the other side of the planet, my daughter was giving herself new challenges and actually finding the strength against all odds to succeed. Parents can say over and over again that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to, but sometimes your kids have to live through an experience like she did before they believe it.

So what did she accomplish? 104 km or 64.6 miles in 20 hours, 56 minutes.
Holy sh-t!
My daughter did that? I am blown away, I wouldn’t have even considered ever doing something like that. I am SO proud of her!

Sometimes parents are tempted to just get a babysitter so they can have their outdoor fun without the hassles of dragging tired children around. But those inconveniences we went through – of tired toddlers melting down on a hike or having to belay our child for what seems like an eternity while they thrash on a climb that they’re clearly never going to be able to do – are minor in comparison to the lessons learned and the character built. They’ve learned to accept the challenges and feel the joy in the accomplishments of doing what they thought they couldn’t do. It’s all worth it!

My older daughter in Japan.

Yeah, my daughter is a bad ass.

My daughter said this experience was “life changing”. She wrote up the story to use for her college application essay. Here it is:

The 100km Race Experience in Her Words

Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.

Until November 18th, 2012, I had limits. That afternoon I ran the last two kilometers, and sprinted across the finish line. Running? Yes. Speed walking? Yes. Sprinting? Just me. My team got lost at the start, and added four extra kilometers to the already hundred-kilometer race, but we still finished in twenty hours and 56 minutes flat.

Last summer, I joined the Japanese Boy Scouts. My troop and I have done various activities; so when they mentioned the 100-kilometer hike, I said I’d participate. I didn’t think about how demanding it would be to walk 100-kilometers (62-miles) in one day. A few months earlier I had been a member of the #1 High School Dance Club in Japan, and we practiced for up to seven hours a day, seven days a week. When I cried during practice, I thought that was my body telling me that I had reached my limit.

I was dead wrong.

At around kilometer 80, I could not keep back the tears. Unlike at dance where I could take a break, this time there was no stopping. My team cried with me. Our swollen red eyes and tear-streaked cheeks might have worried more than a few passersby, but even then we kept marching forward. When pressed for time, it was my job to set a faster pace. When it was not my turn to lead, I walked in second, and let my friends’ energy pull me forward.

Although I raised team morale after our four-kilometer detour, I almost gave up with just eight kilometers to go. In the fifty minutes remaining, I thought the goal was impossible to reach. We were all tired, sore, and far beyond fatigued. My teammates were convinced we could make it. They pulled me to my feet, and dragged me out of Checkpoint 11 onto the last stretch of the course. There was no turning back. The tears flowed as we half ran, half walked towards the finish. I’m glad that I didn’t drop out at the final checkpoint.

My team was the only all-girls team. The leaders said that we needed a guy on the team to help us to the end. Out of ten teams, three dropped out of the race, but even with our four-kilometer disadvantage, we came in fifth. To reach the finish in time, we ran the last two-kilometers.

Humans are really amazing creatures. Our bodies can surprise us with what they are capable of. My real limit was nowhere near where I had believed it to be. I could continue walking through the tears. When I told my body to keep moving forward through the pain, it obeyed.

Here is the translation of the message I wrote, in Japanese, to my teammates the night after the race:

It’s the first time that I have been so thankful for my futon. ^_^

It was difficult, and we cried a lot, but I have come to believe that if I set my mind to something, anything is possible.

Thank you!

My daughter with her Japanese classmates in Fukuoka.

Find the Chinese-Jewish-American in this picture of Japanese schoolgirls.

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