Muskathlon: mountain biking to fight poverty

A “Muskathlon” – a word formation of musketeer and marathon – combines an athletic challenge with the fight against poverty. Our colleague Justus Kaiser from order management at Covestro’s Supply Chain Center participated in this special event back in 2016 – at the invitation of the organization “4th Musketeer” that benefits charity projects in respective host countries. Today he would like to tell you more about his trip.
Justus Kaiser works in order management at Covestro’s Supply Chain Center (SCC).

Meeting point: Frankfurt Airport. Destination: Uganda. I have months of preparation behind me. Now doubts arise: Am I in good enough shape for what lies ahead of me? Did I collect enough donations? I can answer at least this question with a yes. My colleagues at Covestro contributed a staggering amount of EUR 1,500 to the total of nearly EUR 13,000. That is a tremendous achievement. Things get going. 34 German participants board the airplane. The excitement and tension are enormous. That night we arrive in Entebbe, Uganda. We drive directly to the hotel after our passports are being checked and luggage picked up.

Already early in the morning, a total of 200 “Muskathletes” from the United States, United Kingdom, Norway, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Australia and Germany is split into small groups. We head straight to the capital Kampala, directly into its slums. There we visit a few of the 350 projects of “Compassion” overall, a Christian humanitarian aid child sponsorship organization that supervises 90,000 children throughout the country.

The journey continues. We drive in minivans several hundred kilometers through the country before reaching our hotel at Lake Bunyonyi, which will be our base for the rest of the week.

A moving encounter
The next day my group travels to another Compassion project in Rutare, where a major celebration awaits us. The director of the center for nearly 250 children shares that since the facility was built, the region has developed positively. He describes daily routines: school, meals, health checkups, common activities such as painting and soccer, meetings and teaching sessions with parents, and much more besides. We are deeply touched and pleased that the donations are being used in such a meaningful way.

Then, I experience the highlight of my week: I get to know the very child I sponsor myself, Michael, whom I support since January 2016. He shows me the school he has been attending since the beginning of the yearas an eight-year-old first-grader. He also shows me schoolyard and kitchen. Then he takes me to his home two kilometers away. It’s a simple but nice and clean hut. Together with three other “Muskathletes,” we are invited in by Michael’s mother. As a gift we brought food. We are welcomed with human warmth and gratefulness. Michael and his family live in conditions that are almost unimaginable for us. Two years ago, they still lived on the street, until a neighboring church built a hut for the family. For Michael, education offers the only way to escape into a better life.

Justus Kaiser (left) visited the family of Michael, the child he sponsors (right). Kaiser makes it possible for him to receive a school education.

The encounter with Michael really got under my skin. After a restless night, the next event on the schedule follows: the “Kids’ Fun Day.” Together with the Compassion project in Kisoro, we jointly organize an Olympic event with 400 children. The idea is for them to play, get attention and simply be allowed to be children – unfortunately an unusual role for children in many East African countries.

The Muskathlon
After a day of rest, my alarm goes off already at 5 a.m. I take a relaxed shower, gather my equipment, have a small breakfast and head to the Muskathlon course where final preparations are under way. I take my place at the starting line with my bicycle. In addition to 200 international participants, well over 500 local athletes have also shown up to run for the fun of it. So many months of work and hours of training – for this one moment. I have goosebumps and I’m nervous. The race begins. I get off to a good start. The first round of about 35 kilometers goes very well: no cramps and the bike is running well. Impressions fly past: locals lining the course to cheer us on, a quarry in which entire families are working, refreshment stations with friendly helpers and first hikers whom I cheer on in turn from my bicycle.

Justus Kaiser is exhausted but happy when he crosses the finish line. The reward for months of preparation.

After six hours, 40 minutes, 122 kilometers, 2,450 meters of elevation gain and temperature differences between 10 and 31 degrees Celsius, it is done. With tears in my eyes, I fly across the finish line. The training has paid off. I’ve made it, even though I’m now cramping all over. Yet that fits the Muskathlon slogan: “Extreme efforts against extreme injustice.”

A week comes to an end in which 1,300 child sponsorships were arranged and EUR 700,000 in cash donations raised for aid projects in Uganda. Daybreak on the final day. I can sleep in for a little while before packing. And the next Muskathlon is already being planned. From the airport in Rwanda, we fly back to Germany. After landing, I get into my car, which seems a lot newer than before. I’m disconcerted by how different everything is here. We have it easy, and I’m much more thankful for this after returning than I was before I left. I’m back from Uganda – with Michael, the child I sponsor, in my heart.

Learn more about the Muskathlon at www.muskathlon.com.