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From Deserts to the Olympics

Sophie Collett always has a smile on her race as she runs in RacingThePlanet events, but at this year’s Roving Race in Jordan, you may spot a somewhat broader smile than normal. Sophie has a remarkable task awaiting her when she returns to the United Kingdom after the race: she will be carrying the Olympic torch through her hometown of Hereford. 

I’m excited,” she admits when we catch up for a chat at the end of the first stage. “I’ve always watched the Olympics on TV and it’s a massive thing for England. It’s not something you really get to do every day... hopefully it will be a long route!”

At the age of 28, Sophie has already completed the Thames Meander (2008), the Marathon des Sables (2008), Jungle Marathon (2008), Yukon Arctic Ultra (2009), The Oner (2009), the Gobi March 2009, the Atacama Crossing 2011 and the Sahara Race 2011. It was all this activity that inspired Zara Phillips, the daughter of Princess Anne, to select Sophie as one of the torchbearers.

The Olympic torch actually begins its journey this week as Sophie pushes her way across the Wadi Rum desert. It sets off from Land’s End in Cornwall on Saturday, 19 May and over the course of ten weeks will be carried by 8,000 torchbearers. Sophie’s turn will come two weeks after she returns from Jordan.

Does she know exactly what her route will be?  “No, because I think they sent all the information to my parent’s house while I have been away,” she says with a laugh. “We have a uniform as well, and all of the information they mailed after I had left.”

It won’t just be Sophie’s family and friends who will be cheering for her as she carries the flame for her country. Sophie works as a physiotherapist in a children’s hospital and her patients are children who have had major cardiac surgery (open heart surgery), severe pneumonias, disabilities, brain or head injuries. “They get complications from being in a hospital on a ventilator, so I work with them” she says.

Yet, she points out that there is a parallel between endurance races and the mental agility required to help these kids. “I think it’s your approach and mental attitude towards things,” she muses, “because if you don’t go about it the right way, you spend your time being sad. You have to have the ability to be positive… you know? You have to think of things in a good way and not take things to heart. Like out here, if you feel rubbish and you think about it for hours, it will just get worse. You have to be able to see the good things instead.”

It’s this inspiring mindset and the amazing stories she brings back to the kids from her desert adventures that has made Sophie a hit with patients and parents. Many of them are following her closely on the race website this week.

Sophie finishes with a request to send a message out to two of her patients. “One is Sonny, the other is Jasmine,” she explains. “I’ve seen them both for months and I was like, ‘I don’t want to leave them for ten days!’ They’re long term, so I’m looking forward to seeing them when I get back. They’re very sweet.”

And with that, she’s off to get some rest before another day of racing through some of the most beautiful yet toughest conditions on the planet. We have the feeling that Sonny and Jasmine are feeling extremely inspired right now.

By Clare Morin

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