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Moving Mountains

By Clare Morin

It is early evening in the lush setting of the Fulbari Resort and Spa in Pokhara, and a group of American competitors sit in the lobby of the exquisite hotel. There are hundreds of photographs of young children spread around them—and their team t-shirts bear the words, ‘Running With Luci’.


Their leader, George Chmiel, greets us with a smile. The young American is a recognizable face in RacingThePlanet events having conquered the Sahara Race 2009, RacingThePlanet: Australia 2010 and the Atacama Crossing 2011. But this is the first time he’s brought a team with him.


“All these guys are going to get how simple everything in life seems after doing this,” he says. “The event is primitive, it is only you, your backpack and the guys with you.”


The reason Chmiel and his five fellow teammates are about to enter this 250-kilometer odyssey into the mighty Himalayas, is all because of a five year-old called Luci Horvath. And the number five appears with great frequency in this girl’s life.


Luci was born five years ago, and five weeks into her young life, she had five seizures. After many tests, she was diagnosed with panhypopituitarism (growth hormone deficiency). This means that Luci’s pituitary gland does not function properly. She has to take five medications every day, including cortisol, thyroid medication and growth hormones. At many points in her short life, through stress or hyperactivity, she has come close to death.


It is with Luci’s tremendous courage and spirit in mind, that the team embarks on RacingThePlanet:  Nepal. The group is using the event to raise funds for the MAGIC Foundation, which helps young people with growth hormone deficiencies.


Chmiel has dedicated every race he’s done in the RacingThePlanet series to this charity. His good friend and colleague, Michael Horvath is Luci’s father, and Chmiel was able to witness first-hand the great need for help for such young people. Over the past two years, he has helped to raise more than US$200,000. “It is amazing how one really small decision can completely change your life,” says Chmiel.


It is a huge accomplishment, but this year there is a new angle. Chmiel has arrived with five teammates in tow, including Luci’s father, Michael Horvath. “I got called out in front of 400 people,” points out Horvath of his decision to enter the event. “There wasn't much choice to say no!”


“We aren’t elite athletes and runners,” chimes in another team-member. “We've changed our bodies, we've changed our lives and are in the best shape we've been.”


They have to be one of the most cheerful and upbeat groups in the event. And they are proving to be a tremendous inspiration for the entire MAGIC Foundation that now holds a ‘Magic Marathon’ every year; this year it was in Nashville, next year it’s set for New Orleans. The founder of the charity will also be flying into Nepal to greet the team at the finish line.


As the most experienced endurance athlete of the group, Chmiel admits that he feels a certain level of responsibility. “My first goal is to keep these guys healthy and safe, my second is to get us all across the finish line and third is to win the team category,” he says. “Those are my priorities, in that order.”


But the sheer drive that pushes the six men, in the name of that courageous five-year old girl, is a serious force to be reckoned with. “This collective force has the power to move mountains,” warns Chmiel.

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