Local runner’s humanitarianism brings her to Ethiopia for half-marathon

The Bellingham HeraldSeptember 30, 2013 

Alicia Gaston

Alicia Gaston will be going to Ethiopia to run in the premiere Haile Gebrselassie Marathon on October 20, 2013.

MATT MCDONALD — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

Some people seem to have a figurative magnet pulling them to a specific spot in the world, and they just can’t help but go back time after time. For Alicia Gaston, that place is the Bole area of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.

Gaston, 34, is a case manager at Children’s House International, an adoption agency. She had just returned home from a trip to Ethiopia when she read about the Haile Gebrselassie Marathon in Hawassa, Ethiopia.

“I talked to my office and we set up an event to use the race as the topping on the cake,” Gaston said in a phone interview.

Gaston and Children’s House International started raising funds for the Bole Area Humanitarian Aid Project through events at the local Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt, a garage sale and through the website Crowdrise.com. It only takes $350 to support a family in Ethiopia for an entire year, Gaston said.

Gaston will travel to Ethiopia to deliver the supplies to the Bole Project on Oct. 11, then after a few days of work she will finish her training for the Haile Gebrselassie Half-Marathon. At close to 5,600 feet above sea level, Gaston plans on using the last few days before the race on Oct. 20, to get acclimated to the elevation since she didn’t run the last time she visited.

“I’ve done a few half-marathons, but never a full one,” Gaston said. “I planned on doing one, but I just wasn’t ready. I’m not one of those ‘super runners’ who runs a marathon every weekend.”

Figuring out when to train and run was difficult for Gaston to fit in with her work schedule alone, but she also has to factor in her son’s schedule. Gaston is a single mother of a 6-year-old boy. Sometimes when she goes for a run he will ride his bicycle alongside her.

Though she doesn’t expect to come anywhere close to winning, Gaston will use the race as a challenge to herself, she said.

“Running is my own personal passion. I strive to beat myself, not other runners,” she added.

The race, which is held in Hawassa, Ethiopia, includes a marathon, half-marathon, a 5K and kids’ races. It is named for Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie, a former world and Olympic champion in various distance races. Gaston hopes other successful people from the country follow Gebrselassie’s lead in giving back to their country.

“If it turns out to be big, it will continue and could be a big thing for their economy,” Gaston said. “Anything outside of the capital is impoverished, so this will help build up Ethiopia.”

The Haile Gebrselassie Marathon takes place Oct. 20. More information about the race can be found at hailemarathon.com. More information about Children’s House International can be found at childrenshouseinternational.com.

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