Motivation Marissa Cepelinski Makes the Trip of a Lifetime by Running for Ethiopian...

Marissa Cepelinski Makes the Trip of a Lifetime by Running for Ethiopian Clean Water Projects


Marissa Cepelinski had the trip of a lifetime recently by participating with her fellow ultra marathoners by running for clean water projects in Ethiopia. Her team of 15 raised just over $102,000.  It was enough to set up a school and a clean water well in the town of Hidri, Northern Ethiopia. Here is our Q&A interview about her passion for running for charity.

Q: When did your passion begin for running/hiking?

A: I fell in love with the outdoors when I moved to Vancouver. After a few incredible hiking excursions, my activity of choice was adventuring to old-growth forests, mountain tops, glacier lakes, and experiencing all the other splendors that this beautiful province had to offer.

Q:  Which came first, your passion for running – or providing financial planning/services?

A: I was the kid who played banker not barbie. I loved playing with monopoly dollars as a lttle girl and always enjoyed numbers. Choosing a career in finance was an easy and somewhat obvious transition after graduating from Western University. I wanted to work with people and numbers so it was a perfect fit. I really picked up running after I moved to Vancouver in 2005. I constantly saw runners, rain or shine, I figured I should at least check out what all the hype was about.

Q: How do you best combine both your passions?

A: I enjoy running for a cause and I enjoy tackling challenges. Running for me, and I imagine most people, is an internal battle more than a physical battle. It’s a “how committed are you to this goal” debate that comes up every rainy morning when it’s time to lace up. It’s the same with building your wealth. At times, it can be a struggle. We have to be extremely connected to the goal in order to stay on track. I challenge my clients to connect with their goals and commit to the plan that we build together. We can all benefit from guidance in some areas of our life. I enjoy helping people manage their money. The more I push myself physically and stay on track, the more this translates in my work where I help my clients stay on track with their finances.

Q: When was your first charity run and how did it feel?

A: In January 2013, I went with six other friends from Vancouver to do the Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica. My friend Graham finally convinced me after having heard a consistent “no way” from me over a six month period. I wasn’t even running 5 km’s at that time – I thought it was a crazy idea… I did it. I liked the challenge. I wanted to show myself that the perceived impossible was actually possible. It was a 6 day stage race, averaging a marathon a day through the rainforest. The route is 230 kms over 6 days. I got lost twice and turned it into 250kms. My feet were destroyed and my legs were cooked, but I refused to quit. As a team, we got involved with Imagine1Day, a local non profit organization that directly implements quality education to Ethiopian adults and children. We built a fundraising initiative for the 6 months prior to the race. Why not combine running and raising money for a good cause at the same time? It added another level of purpose and challenge to the adventure. It felt amazing to run for a cause, I was hooked from that point on!

Q: Tell us how your big run came about in November with the Ethiopia Run for water project?

A: I participated in the Run4Water Ultramarathon for the past 2 years.  We raise money for clean water projects in Ethiopia and run an Ultramarathon in Abbotsford, BC, where the charity’s head office  is located. Since becoming involved, I have wanted to travel to Ethiopia and visit the villages and be amongst the communities. When the executive director of Run4Water said he was putting together a group of 15 runners to take to Ethiopia and we would raise $100,000 collectively, I knew immediately I had to go. We ran 10 km’s a day throughout different areas of Northern Ethiopia. We also visited the Yaya Village training resort, otherwise known as “A runner’s paradise above the clouds in Ethiopia”. On the final day, our group ran in the Great Ethiopian Run, a 10km race with over 40,000 people.

The $100,000 fundraising goal was definitely a bit intimidating at first as it meant we each had to take on a $7,000 commitment. The money we raised was enough to set up a clean water well, and a school in Hidri, Ethiopia, a village that currently has neither.

Q: How did you prepare for something like this?

A: Leading up to our trip, I split much of my time between fundraising and training. For training, I have an amazing running coach, Ray Zahab, whom built me a program that prepared me to comfortably run 10km a day in the mountains. The one thing I didn’t prepare for the challenge of running these distances at elevations between 9,000 to 10,500 feet. Running 10 km’s at elevation was much more strenuous and it took me several days to acclimatize.

Q: Was this the run of a life time and what was the best part?

A: This was the most impactful traveling experience I have had to date. The running was beautiful. We visited 1000 year old cave churches at the top of mountains, ran through national parks at over 10,000 feet high among herds of baboons, and saw landscapes that I would have never imagined seeing in Ethiopia…BUT the best part was the time we spent amongst local villagers in small rural communities. We spent a few days living in the village of Hidri, where the money we raised was going towards a clean water well and a new school facility. Living amongst the community and seeing their way of life was a humbling, and enlightening experience.

Q: Would you recommend this run?

A: Absolutely! Ethiopia is beautiful and the running there is incredible. It was a true adventure, and  I am already planning the next visit!

Q: Give some tips on how we can run for charity?

A: If you are going to run and you feel connected to a cause, run for a cause. It can be easy, it doesn’t have to be complicated. You can connect yourself with any charity you feel emotionally connected to, set up a Chimp page, and start raising money. Your donors can get a tax receipt the same day as donating – its that easy. Start with a small goal that you feel comfortable with.  You can askfriends/co-workers/family to donate per kilometre if you are planning to run a long distance. Build accountability and help people understand why this cause is important to you. Help others connect with the cause and the benefits of giving. Get started, it can be fun!

Q: What is next for you? 

A: Right now I am working on raising money for food programs to help eliminate hunger in Vancouver. We live in an amazing city and no one should be going hungry. My fundraising efforts locally are going to support this cause. I will be back running in Ethiopia again next fall to help set up another school and clean water well.

Q:How have you empowered women to do the same?
A: I have presented and spoken on my experiences and as a result have enrolled others onto a similar journey. We have such an incredible capacity to help. Let’s lead by example and help inspire others to get involved.