At Run for the Water, I experienced what people in Burundi do daily

Leslie Newberry, a board member of the Gazelle Foundation, carries a water jug along the course of Sunday’s Run for the Water. PAM LeBLANC/American-Statesman


Gilbert Tuhabonye tells the story often: As a boy growing up in Burundi, he walked 3 miles at least once every day to fill a plastic jug with drinking water for his family.

So did his neighbors and classmates and friends. All that walking and hauling took it’s toll: Exhausted kids at school, disease spread by people drinking unsanitary water, time that could be spent more productively consumed by filling and carrying jugs.

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Steve Pina balances a water jug on his head during Sunday’s Run for the Water. PAM LeBLANC/American-Statesman

At the Run for the Water on Sunday, I got a tiny taste of what Tuhabonye experienced when he lived in Africa, and what thousands of other people there still do today. I walked the race’s 5K route (there’s also a 10-miler) as part of a team of 12, trading off duty carrying water jugs.

The jugs weren’t even filled to capacity. When they’re full, they weigh 48 pounds. Ours were probably half full, and they sloshed around with each step.

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Gilbert Tuhabonye, head of the Gazelle Foundation, laughs as runners cross the finish line of the Run for the Water on Nov. 5. PAM LeBLANC/American-Statesman

We started 5 minutes before the elite runners, and formed a single file line at the side of the road. Every quarter of a mile or so, I traded off with my partner, Alex Pasadyn. Each team had a hand-made fabric donut-shaped cushion, to make carrying the jugs on our heads a little easier.

We quickly learned it wasn’t just about the load – it was about holding our arms above our heads to make sure the jugs stayed in place. That got tiring. And once, during a trade-off, I dropped my jug on the ground. This morning, I felt the effects of our 50-minute hike in my neck and shoulders.

Pam LeBlanc carries a water jug on her head during the Run for the Water.

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Walking with the water reminded me how easy we have it here in Austin. Most of us walk only a few steps to the nearest sink or spigot, where a flick of the handle delivers clean, fresh water. It’s hard to imagine anything else.

For us, yesterday’s walk was a sweaty workout. For the people of Burundi who still don’t have water, it’s a daily task.

“Powerful visual!” one woman called out as she ran past.

Walkers carry water jugs on their head to remind runners that many people in Burundi have to walk for miles to fill water jugs every day. PAM LeBLANC/American-Statesman

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Burundi has the 12th highest child mortality rate in the world because of a lack of clean drinking water, according to the website of the Gazelle Foundation, the non-profit organization co-founded by Tuhabonye. Waterborne contaminants are the leading cause of death.

The Run for the Water is the organization’s biggest fund-raiser of the year, and about 4,000 people participated in yesterday’s event, its 11th. So far the non-profit organization has installed 120 miles of water pipe to deliver clean water to more than 70,000 people in neighborhoods, schools, hospitals and churches in Burundi.

I hope seeing our team walking along the course with water jugs brought home the meaning of the race for the runners. I know it did for me.

Hey endurance athletes, check out the new Austin Triathlon Club

Meghann Jones and Daniel Riegel have launched a new triathlon club in Austin. FAMILY PHOTO

Organizers of the new Austin Triathlon Club are hosting a launch party Monday at the Gingerman.

Daniel Riegel and Meghann Jones, who met through the DC Triathlon Club in Washington, D.C., decided to start a similar social and training club when they moved back to Texas. (Austin has had social triathlon clubs in the past, but they’re mostly inactive.)

“It’s not a team coaching program. It’s a social and training club,” says Riegel, president of the club.

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The non-profit, USA Triathlon-registered organization will offer group workouts, new triathlete mentoring, social events, race support, training weekends, triathlete panels, clinics, discounts and more resources for Austin area triathletes. The goal, Riegel says, is to give back to the Austin triathlon community.

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“We’re not trying to compete with any other teams, we just want to provide an accessible and affordable opportunity, especially for people who may just want to try out triathlon and connect with other triathletes,” he says.

Annual membership to the Austin Triathlon Club will cost less than $50 per year. For more information go here.

The kickoff happy hour is set for 6:30 p.m. tonight at the Gingerman, 301 Lavaca Street.

UT grad chronicles Grand Canyon murder in new book

Annette McGivney returns to Austin next week to talk about her latest book, “Pure Land.” Photo courtesy Aquarius Press

In 2006, an 18-year-old member of the Havasupai tribe stabbed a 34-year-old Japanese woman to death as she hiked alone to a turquoise-colored series of waterfalls at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

Annette McGivney, an environmental writer who lives in Flagstaff, Arizona, wrote an article about the murder for Backpacker Magazine. But after the story published, McGivney, a graduate of the University of Texas journalism school, couldn’t let go.

McGivney traveled to Japan, where she met the victim’s family. She researched the killer, too, learning that he had a history of robbing tourists and was addicted to meth. As she picked apart the story, she also uncovered something unexpected – long hidden memories of her own abuse as a child. She threads all three of those stories into one in her latest book, “Pure Land: A True Story of Three Lives, Three Cultures, and the Search for Heaven on Earth” (Aquarius Press, 2017).

Annette McGivney (Photo courtesy Aquarius Press)

I met McGivney in 2009, when she came to Austin to talk about her last book, “Resurrection: Glen Canyon and a New Vision for the American West” (Braided River/The Mountaineers, 2009), at the Texas Book Festival. That book chronicled the story of Glen Canyon, which was swamped under water when Lake Powell was created in 1963, but slowly began to reappear as water levels dropped.

McGivney, the southwest editor for Backpacker Magazine and a journalism teacher, returns to Austin next week for two events to promote the most recent book.

Next Tuesday, she’ll speak as part of the Chez Zee Speaker Author Series. On Wednesday, she’ll lead a reading and discussion at BookWoman, an event that doubles as a fundraiser for the SAFE Alliance shelter, which helps survivors of child abuse, sexual assault and exploitation, and domestic violence. McGivney has also established The Healing Lands Project, to facilitate wilderness trips for child victims of domestic violence.

For more information about Tuesday’s event at Chez Zee, 5406 Balcones Drive, go here.

For more information about Wednesday’s fund-raiser at BookWoman, 5501 North Lamar Boulevard, go here.