David Pennington is no stranger to a challenge.
An athlete in his youth – his sport of choice was hockey – Pennington is also an avid cyclist, having once completed a marathon ride across Africa, from Cairo, Egypt to Cape Town, South Africa.
Then, about two years ago, on something of a whim, he decided he wanted to complete an Ironman; seven months of training later, he crossed the finish line, at the grueling race in Cabo San Lucas.
It was the training for the latter event that, he says, spurred him toward his most ambitious athletic endeavour yet – a 2,700-km run from the U.S.-Mexico border to Vancouver, which he is set to embark on next month.
Pennington expects the trip to 42 days, which means running 65 km – a marathon-and-a-half – each day.
“I just decided out of the blue that I wanted to do an Ironman, so I started training and that’s really where I gained an appreciation for running,” said Pennington, a 30-year-old graduate of Elgin Park Secondary.
Though Pennington is excited about the challenge his proposed run presents, the journey is about more than simply testing his physical limits. He is running to raise awareness for waste-management issues that threaten Raja Ampat, Indonesia, a region made up of more than 1,500 islands.
“I’m trying to raise money to create a waste-management system there because it’s sorely needed. There’s no system there at all, so people just end up throwing their garbage in the waterways or the ocean,” explained Pennington, who has dubbed his journey the Ocean Rescue Run.
“They get sold a lot of plastic products there – plastic water bottles, plastic bags – and there’s just no way of disposing of it properly, and now with all this plastic, they just can’t do that anymore.
“And if they don’t throw it away, they just burn it – sometimes right there on the sidewalk, so you’ve got people inhaling all these toxins and poisons. My goal is to just help try and fix it. I know it won’t be a complete solution, but it’s something I can do to help.”
Pennington, a former investment advisor in White Rock, became aware of the garbage situation in Raja Ampat during a two-month kayaking trip he took in the area over a year ago.
“I’d always wanted to kayak there – it’d been on my list for years – and I just thought it sounded like an amazing place,” he explained.
“While I was there, I noticed this issue, and because I’d quit my job, I thought I’d have the time to tackle it.”
In Raja Ampat, Pennington found another local – a tour guide he’d hired named Remmy – who shared his concerns. Between the two of them, they began getting the word out to locals about the problem, while also planning to come up with a solution.
Meanwhile, his website, Friendly Drifter – which originally began as a spot to review and recommend home-stays in the area, for fellow travellers – soon morphed into the hub for his fundraising project.
Residents there – especially the younger generation – want to find a solution, Pennington said. During his visit, he was interviewed by a local journalist about his plans to help, and reaction was so positive that 150 local volunteers showed up to help clean up the town of Waisai, the region’s major centre.
Pennington admits he doesn’t yet know the costs associated with developing a waste-management strategy for the region, though in the future he hopes to consult with experts to come up with a proposal that will work.
In the meantime, he will lace up for his run – which he aims to do along the Pacific Coast Highway, as much as possible – while also stopping along the way to build fundraising support.
During his trek, his partner in the endeavour – girlfriend Kate Sullivan – will drive ahead ahead in their van, drumming up support through local media along the way. Sullivan is also a registered nurse, Pennington added, should he need any medical attention during the run.
One-hundred per cent of the funds raised will support the Friendly Drifter Foundation, he said. He is covering all costs associated with the run, and he is also searching for sponsorship. So far, Choices Market is on board, he added.
The run it something that, as recently as January, was still up in the air, he said.
During a second visit to Indonesia in December, Pennington – who’d been training in earnest for months – contracted malaria, which sent him to the sidelines for three weeks.
“That was a close one, so I’m happy to be here,” he said.
“The run was questionable at that point. I lost about 50 per cent of my strength and about 20 pounds of muscle – the first run I went on afterward was only one kilometer, and I had chest pains and could barely do it. I had to start again from Square 1.”
With the illness now behind him, Pennington said he is looking forward to the challenge in the same way he stared down the Ironman and cycling trek of his past.
“I just think you learn so much about yourself when you put yourself in these types of situations,” he said. “I just like to learn about myself and see if I can push myself to pace I didn’t think I could get to. It’s amazing what happens when you get there – there’s no better feeling in the world, setting a big goal for yourself and accomplishing it.”