Breanna Ragsdale is a senior on the UGA Women’s Track & Field Team. She is triple majoring in Accounting, International Business and Spanish. Breanna had the opportunity to participate in an internship with STRIVE during the summer of 2017.
This summer, I had the incredible opportunity to go on what was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime as an intern with Strive Trips to Iten, Kenya. I had always wanted to dedicate at least part of my summer to serving, but always found it difficult due to summer training for cross country. Strive combines athletics and service in a unique way, and seemed to be the perfect answer to my problem.
I arrived in Iten on June 5th after 3 flights and a bus ride ready to hit the ground running. My first impression of the little rural town 7,900 feet high in the mountains was how shockingly different it was from the United States. Everything was so green, there were various cows, chickens, goats, sheep, etc everywhere, most buildings and houses are made of spare parts, and the roads are mostly hard packed red clay and rocks. The people were all super friendly, wanting to shake my hand and chat. The little town is famous for being the home of some of the best runners in the world and is a Mecca for runners all over the world seeking the best training. We stayed at Lornah Kiplagat’s High Altitude Training Center, where several famous athletes have stayed and trained. Lornah herself has held several world records and has won Olympic medals in the marathon.
My enthusiasm was no match for the altitude, however. The first run was brutal; it felt like my lungs were bursting due to the altitude, but after a few days, my body began to adjust, and we started to get into the groove of training. The combination of huge hills, clay roads, and altitude makes for some difficult runs, but the effects of the training there is incredible. Each day, I and my six fellow interns from various schools in different parts of the country would go for our first run at 6:30am. Then, we would eat breakfast prepared by the staff of the HATC from their fresh garden, and head out for service. We alternated between two primary schools for our morning service, one called Kiptabus, and the other Kamirany. At each school, we tutored standard 8 students who were preparing to take their exams to get into secondary in English and Maths. We also took inventory of their libraries so we could help them get more textbooks, helped them organize their libraries, and bought paint and painted a new classroom at Kiptabus. After our morning service, we would head back to the center for lunch and a second run or gym session, and get ready for afternoon service. Our afternoon service varied a bit more than the mornings. Some days we would go back to either Kiptabus or Kamirany to play games with the younger students or help them clean, and other days we would go to the famous secondary school St. Patrick’s to help some of the top performing senior boys prepare to apply for college in the states. The service aspect of the internship was incredible; I loved being around the kids, interacting with them, sharing ideas, and experiencing their joy. We were also able to meet some other really cool people from countries like Ireland, England, and South Africa that were staying at the HATC to train, as well as some famous runners like Dennis Kimetto.
Just when it seemed like I was hitting my stride with training and really becoming invested in the service, things started to go downhill. It began with a slight pain in both of my feet, which I just attributed to the 80 miles of running per week and 6-8 miles of walking a day to and from schools, and just continued to train. Then, a few days later, I became very sick with a bacterial infection in my stomach, and ended up having to go to the nearest hospital (which was still 45 minutes away) for a couple days. After I left the hospital, I got sick two more times, and was just not recovering like I should have been. After a couple days, I tried to go for a run, and made it through the run, but my feet were so bruised and swollen afterward that it hurt to walk. After some thought and discussion, and the realization that the pain in my feet was probably stress fractures, I decided it was best to cut the trip two weeks short and come home, only staying for 4 instead of 6 weeks.
Although it wasn’t what I expected, I learned a lot about patience, when to give yourself a break, how to push through adversity, and more about the Kenyan healthcare system than I ever cared to know. I’m beyond grateful for these lessons learned the hard way, the people I connected with, and the opportunity to experience a different culture, if only for a short period of time.