EDITOR'S NOTE:  Here is a great story of a high school girl and her mom who read about a runner named Astrel Clovis while preparing for a trip to Haiti. On arrival they took Astrel a new pair of shoes and since found out that he will be running in the New York Marathon this weekend. Alexis and her mom will be there to cheer him on.


From Ohio to Haiti: Running forges bonds beyond borders, age and across cultures

In early 2013, my mom and I were preparing for a trip to Haiti. I’m on the high school track team so I Googled "Haitian Runners."  The one and only name that popped up was an Astrel Clovis.  We read an article about him with great interest and learned that he is my mom’s age and runs up to 70+ miles per week. He wishes Haiti would host its own marathon, despite the fact that rebuilding from the earthquake disaster has been slow.  

The thing about Astrel that struck me most is that he gets up every morning and puts on his second hand running shoes....REALLY?  I never imagined that someone who loves to run and runs so much could do so in used shoes. My mom and I talked about this for some time. I get between two and four new pairs of shoes each year. I put a lot of miles on them, but not as many as Astrel.

So I reached out to AP Haiti Correspondent, Trenton Daniel, who wrote the article I found online. I asked him to help me contact Astrel to get his shoe size. We wanted to take him a pair of new shoes when we got to Haiti. We got Astrel’s shoe size and found the shoes he liked on Zappos. I was so excited, I felt like Cinderella herself the day the shoes arrived.

Trenton said he would help us in Haiti to meet up with Astrel. 

The day came, and we left for Haiti with Astrel’s shoes packed away. I was very intimidated when we arrived in Port Au Prince. I had some silly notion that I would be riding around and just see Astrel jogging down the road. Well, just a picture of Port-au-Prince will give you an idea of how unrealistic that is. The official population is 800,000+, but actually there are more than 2 million people living there. Our week went by fast with visits to the hospital, orphanages, touring the water facility and visiting schools in remote villages. 

At first, we had trouble connecting with Astrel and I worried I may have to take Astrel's shoes home. But then I had our translator call the number. After a few minutes of listening to a one-sided conversation in Haitian Creole, our translator hung up and told us that that Astrel would come visit that night. I was so excited!  :) 

As promised, Astrel turned up at the gate to our guesthouse. Luckily we had a friend who helped translate when we couldn't find mutual words of understanding. We had a great talk. Astrel had brought many papers with him to meet us. I realized, though not until after the fact, that Astrel came to the guest house not knowing who I was or why he was being asked to visit. I think Astrel had thought I was a reporter or race organizer.  That didn't last long though....about 20 minutes in to our visit I reached behind him and got the box with the shoes and gave it to him.  When Astrel opened the box his eyes lit up like nothing I have EVER, EVER seen in my life.  The joy just radiated from him...he looked at me and smiled and it all clicked for him at that moment. He said, "You the lady with the shoes!" 

We all hugged and smiled and basked in that moment of pure happiness. It was so wonderful to be able to share the simply act of handing a pair of shoes to a fellow runner. Running is derived from an internal love and passion.  Those of us who do it are very similar.....even though we don't speak the same language as Astrel, we have the bond that comes from our love of the sport.  Sadly enough, our visit didn't last much longer and we had to say good-bye.

I have been able to keep in touch with Astrel since coming home. I read about the half marathon he was running in Port-au-Prince in June and called him up. He excitedly told me that the shoes we got him were "good, good, good!" and that he was going to wear them in the race. He won that race and my heart is filled with an unexplainable joy. My mom and I felt so blessed to be able to know that we were able to have a small part in his great day and success, yet Astrel would have won that race without the shoes...I have NO doubt. 

And then came even more exciting news. Astrel had qualified to run in the New York City Marathon as a member of Team J/P HRO, which is raising funds for reconstruction efforts in Haiti (www.crowdrise.com/thelongrunforhaiti). He was coming to the United States and it’s the day after the Ohio High School Cross Country meet in Columbus. My mom said after competing at state, we could head across town to the airport after the event and catch a plane to New York City. Unfortunately, I’m now nursing a stress fracture in my foot and I’m not sure if I’ll get to run. Either way, distance won’t stop me from cheering on my team and cheering for Astrel.

Alexis Rhodes is a 16-year-old high school student from Republic, Ohio