By Lindsey Quinn
One hundred fifty five miles across China’s Gobi Desert…
A hundred more through the muggy heat in Louisiana…
How far would you go to help children in need? For Mike Epler, the answer is 255 grueling miles.
Mike Epler’s relationship with Children International began nearly 10 years ago and over 10,000 miles from his current California home when he met sponsor Kristen Palana while both were volunteering in Africa.
Inspired by Kristen’s stories of sponsorship, Mike became a CI champion. He sponsored Innocent, a young boy from Lusaka, Zambia, who had lost his father. He also became involved with Aura’s House – the crowd-sourced fundraising website Kristen founded, maintaining different web pages, marketing the site and working on community projects. One notable achievement was the 2006 project to build a classroom in the Philippines. “This was a very large project: it was double the size of any of the projects [Aura’s House] had ever done. So that was a stretch for people to accept that we could get that high. But we achieved it, and the town celebrated and had a day event around it. It was real rewarding to see that kind of excitement at the town.”Listen as Mike describes sponsoring Innocent. Hear Mike talk about why he chose UALR.
A large-scale project like the Philippines classroom was on Mike’s mind when he signed up for Racing the Planet’s Gobi March, a 250K (155 miles) race through the Chinese desert. Mike knew he wanted to use the race to inspire donations for Children International, but he decided to do things a little differently. “Each of the runners [is] from a different country, and we wear our country flag on our clothes each day as we run. So, I wanted to pick a U.S. project to support. Aura’s House has done a lot of international projects, but we hadn’t done many U.S. ones, so I asked Children International to identify something that we could do in the U.S. [… ] I picked the dental project at UALR.”
After selecting the project, Mike began preparing for the race. He hired trainer Terri Schneider to help him prepare for the rigors of a cross-country trek like the Gobi March. Over six months, Mike learned new types of running, worked on his speed, improved his technique for running hills, and slowly added weight to his pack.
In between daily 10-mile runs, Mike worked on his goal to help kids in Little Rock, Arkansas. He built a fundraising page on Aura’s House, which would be the nerve-center of his efforts. He worked with his employer, Bank of America, to make sure they would match his fundraising efforts. And Mike also established a challenge where he, too, would match $1 for every $1 donated, making a $1 donation turn into $3. Mike also got the word out to everyone he could – writing press releases, posting in his fraternity newsletter and getting Aura’s House listed as sponsor on the Racing the Planet website. Friends and family spread the word of his efforts; and Kristen even posted on LiftOne, which helped sponsors learn more about the race.
Soon it was time for him to fly around the world and face the Gobi. Over six stages, Mike successfully completed four marathons, one 50-mile race and a final 15K race.Hear more details on Mike’s training program and the race. Listen as Mike explains why special donations are so important.
The Gobi March was a grueling test of endurance and strength of will. Mike’s experiences are a fitting symbol for the challenges sponsored kids face when climbing out from the weight of poverty: the task can be arduous, demoralizing and exhausting. And like many sponsored children striving for their goals, Mike didn’t succeed on the first try: he successfully completed his running goal, but came up short on his fundraising efforts. A few months after the China race, he competed in the Cajun Coyote Run – another 100 miles, but this time through the bayous of Louisiana.
The many miles of Mike’s sponsorship are remarkable – and show how sponsors will go to any lengths to help a child.
We’re happy to report that Mike recently achieved his fundraising goal to provide dental supplies to 400 children in Little Rock, Arkansas. Visit www.aurashouse.com to learn more.