When Elmira resident Emma Wichers graduated from the nursing program at Conestoga College, she could have started her career just about anywhere. After doing a three-month student placement at Chitokoloki Mission Hospital in the Republic of Zambia, “anywhere” became Africa.
But when the time came to raise money for the self-funded hospital, she found support from a little closer to home.
“For the mission, it’s always kind of a struggle to stay afloat … You raise your own support,” said Jisca Wichers, Emma’s sister, a master’s student at Wilfrid Laurier. “I’ve always wanted to run a marathon, and I knew I’d have to have a pretty strong inspiration to actually be able to do it.
“It went through downtown Toronto, so there were people most of the way cheering you on, and you get to see the CN Tower and go through King Street.”
On April 27, Jisca took to the streets of Toronto and made it all the way to the end of Good Life Marathon. In doing so, she raised $2,000 for MSC Canada (twice her original goal), which will help pay for medication and treatment at Chitokoloki.
Jisca trained for the marathon since January, with a four-month plan of ambitious practice runs that peaked at 36km. “You never actually run the full distance, so I found that a little scary. ‘Can I actually do it or not?’” she said.
One of the surprises was learning that a marathon is as much of a psychological challenge as it is a physical one. “People kept talking about having mantras, but when I got to that point, it was just one step at a time,” she laughed. “No mantras were going to help me at that point.
“There were these two guys in front of me, and this one guy was coaching the other. He literally had his arm around him, and was pushing him on. That helped me, too – seeing the camaraderie, and hearing the coaching tips.”
Still, the physical challenge is no picnic either. No one wants to collapse just before the end of a marathon, and Jisca received some much-needed support from her family.
“The best part was approaching the finish line and seeing my family there. My brother joined me for the last three kilometres. He was wearing his jeans, his hoodie, his boots, and he ran with me. I don’t know if that’s actually allowed or not, but that feeling was great.”
Across the Atlantic, Emma Wichers is in the midst of an indefinite stay in a region where medical agencies are not in high supply.
“Nursing in Zambia is quite different from nursing in Canada,” she said. “There are much fewer staff and resources and also much poorer accessibility to our patients. Some of our Zambian patients have to travel for days to get to the hospital, and we get patients from Congo and Angola as well.”
She noted, “While living in Canada it was easy to find things to complain about our health care system, yet it’s all about perspective. Compared to most other countries in the world we have so much to be thankful for.”
Despite the hardships, she says that each day has the potential to bring a great experience.
“One amazing moment happened just a few weeks ago when a mom who had six stillbirths and no living children gave birth to a healthy child. Seeing the joy on her face, and others like her, makes up for a lot of short nights.”
Jisca and Emma have kept in touch over email and Skype. Jisca credits her sister’s stories from Zambia for giving her the incentive to make it through the marathon.
“Having a strong motivation and a strong cause helps,” said Jisca. “Especially during the winter when it got really cold, I know if I didn’t have that motivation, I probably would have quit.”
“I got into nursing knowing that I wanted to use my skills to help needy people,” said Emma. “I saw a way that I felt I could make a difference. … I love what I do, and every day I thank God that I get to be here.”
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