Sarnia woman lone Canadian running, cycling hiking 335 kilometres through Namibia

Sarnia’s Kathryn Smith thought she was in shape.

She wasn’t wrong, she’d just never before signed up to spend a week running, cycling and climbing hundreds of kilometres over mountainous terrain, ancient volcanic craters, and through the Namib Desert.

The 27-year-old process safety engineer at Ineos Styrolution in Sarnia is one of about 30 participants in the Ineos In Nam’ desert challenge organized by the Sarnia plant’s United Kingdom-based parent company. She’s the only Canadian - writes

“I’m feeling pretty good actually,” said Smith, five weeks out from the 335-kilometre odyssey through Namibia that includes a marathon, two half marathons, a two-day hike up and down Brandberg Mountain, and lots and lots of cycling.

The voluntary team-building trip is for “graduates” of the company’s in-house training program.

“Initially my gut was ‘No, that’s ridiculous,’” said Smith, who’s historically run cross country and kept fit with workout classes.

“And when I showed my parents, they were like, ‘That’s suicide.’”

But she talked to enough people, including other family members and Noelle’s Gift of Fitness organizer Marg Stewart, she said, who all convinced her it was an amazing opportunity she shouldn’t pass up.

She said OK, conscious she might not be able to handle it.

“But I just have to try,” she remembers telling herself.

After four pre-trip training sessions, Smith now has successive running and biking days under her belt, along with two marathons and a 100-kilometre mountain bike through hilly Texas terrain.

She’d never run more than 10 kilometres before committing to the trip, she said.

“It was a big decision for me but I’m glad I went through with it,” she said, thanking her company, her family, friends and trainers for helping her take it on.

The real challenge begins May 5, she said.

“I’ve got the countdown on my calendar.”

Meanwhile, Smith is using her looming trek to help support Noelle’s Gift, the charity in memory of murdered schoolteacher Noelle Paquette that gifts meals, clothes and school supplies to local students.

Its sixth annual Noelle’s Gift of Fitness fundraiser is coming up May 26, and Smith’s challenge is aiming for $1,000 to help kick it off.

“We’re just really excited (Smith’s) on board to team up to help raise money for the Fitness,” said the charity’s Nicole Paquette, Noelle’s sister.

“It continues to show how amazing our community is in the support that we get.”

This year’s Gift of Fitness fundraiser includes several local fitness organizations hosting workout activities, sunrise yoga, and a kids’ event at Canatara Park starting at noon, she said.

Unlike in past years, there’s no registration fee. Participants are asked to raise $188 in pledges.

A fitness expo is being planned for 2019, she said.

“We’re hoping to have some celebrity athletes or somebody come to one venue.”

To register, visit the upcoming events section at Smith’s fundraising page is part of the event site.

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