Meet Charles. He lives in Taanayel Lebanon and serves as the Quality Control department (ok – there are only 2 people in the QA Department including Charles!) for Arcenciel Organization. Arcenciel is a really cool NGO which I wrote all about on Briefcase to Backpack recently – click here and learn more.
While I was there visiting Arcenciel I also met Charles who captured my interest right away. He not only works at Arcenciel manufacturing wheelchairs which are given to the disabled around Lebanon, but he and I also have something very cool in common. We have both ran the NYC Marathon! Sure – I know lots of people who have run the NYC marathon, so why is this interesting enough to share with you?
Charles is disabled.
He lives in a little town in Lebanon.
He doesn’t have a lot of money and doesn’t get to travel.
I have traveled around the world and to many impoverished countries, but he’s the first foreigner who I’ve met in such a place who has participated in the marathon. I of course wanted to learn more. Charles spoke a little English, but Yola, the GeoVisions office manager, helped me gather more information from him.
He participated in the marathon in 1997 with a group of 5 other Lebanese disabled participants. They were funded by Goodwill and had their lodging paid for. This was his first and only trip to America even though he did get another visa approved a couple of years later, he was unable to afford to go for a second time.
He only practiced for 2 months leading up to the marathon, so he found the actual race quite challenging. He also was using a very heavy wheelchair (20 kg) which hindered him. However, he finished in 4 hours and placed 40th out of 80 in his wheelchair division.
I asked him what his favorite things were about visiting NYC and he answered without pausing, “I loved how people respect the rules there.” This made me laugh as I thought about how different Lebanon is in driving rules alone. Quite frankly – there are no driving rules in Lebanon! He also mentioned how his most memorable moment was crossing the finish line – it was a feeling like no other. I can totally agree with him based on my own experience. But I tried for a moment to put myself in his shoes; people wildly cheering for him – a foreigner experiencing America, New York City, and a marathon for the first time. That feeling of crossing the finish line would have been amplified about 10,000 times!
I don’t know if you know how very unique this is for a man like Charles to be able to go and participate in an event like this – but trust me – it is unique. it made my heart swell with pride for him and I was thrilled that he crossed my travel path.