“We always break bread with our partners,” said Josh Webster, one of the first Team Rubicon volunteers and the first staff member hired to handle onboarding, the volunteer database, and TR gear. Webster worked with Jake Wood, Team Rubicon’s CEO and co-founder, way back in 2010 and he’s been a part of TR ever since, in one capacity or another.
Webster’s comment was referring to his time in South Sudan in 2011 when TR partnered with Dr. Glenn Geelhoed’s Mission to Heal, following South Sudan’s independence. But his comment also captures the spirit of TR.
Dr. Geelhoed, Webster, Dan Fong, Jack Smith, and Dr. Ajak Abraham worked in South Sudan on a medical and peacekeeping mission. The two main tribes in the area, the Dinka and the Murle, were in conflict and had been for years.
Dr. Geelhoed, a long-distance runner, wanted to a create a marathon that brought his and TR’s volunteers together along with members of both tribes, to foster a sense of community and shared purpose. But in 100 degree F-heat and no real course for a marathon, Dr. Geelhoed conceded to organizing and running a shorter race, which they named the Jonglei Freedom Run.
Fong recalled, “I was told it was 13K or so. I’m not a runner at all—I quip that I refuse unless I’m being chased or shot at. There wasn’t really any course preview. Just an informal, ‘hey, we’re going to do a thing…’ I believe my predominant emotion was dread—though I say that with a smile.”
The group had t-shirts printed locally, and decided that the run would be a big loop around the town of Werkok, though they had no course maps. Webster said he wasn’t sure how many people ran but thought it was maybe 20-30. Fong said he isn’t sure how many people ran as “There were sizable crowds at the start and finish line. It was difficult to keep track of contestants though, as there were frequently minivans along the route that would stop to pick up and drop off runners.”
Webster came in first and said, “All of us top finishers got the new nation’s currency in an envelope as a prize. I used mine to buy everyone beer.” He walked with the others to a local store and handed the store owner money for Tusker, a local beer, that they all drank warm because the city had no electricity.
Webster said, “I don’t speak Swahili so my overall impression is minimal since I didn’t understand the comments but I think the race showed that a new nation can collaborate and do something eternal.”
Fong said that this race and the annual ones that followed it, both in South Sudan and in the United States that TR renamed as Run as One, are about community. “My personal opinion is that we as a country have more things that divide us than unite us. Team Rubicon is an excellent groundswell in the opposite direction, propagating a sense of community and shared experience. It is also true to the values of the organization, to provide a continued sense of belonging and community for veterans.”
And for Fong personally, he learned through that experience with Dr. Geelhoed and the others the importance of not only treating people but giving them the skills and education to treat others. Fong returned from South Sudan and a mission to Haiti and completed a physician’s assistant program. He now uses that philosophy, that he calls a “force multiplier” in his work.
Team Rubicon’s next Run as One event will be held around the nation on April 13, 2019. Run as One is a joint event sponsored by TR, Team RWB and The Mission Continues.
For more information or to register, click here.