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Osoyoos student excited about running across Haiti to help educate poor families
A young university student from Osoyoos is about to combine her two passions – long distance running and making a difference in the lives of poor people – as she prepares to run across Haiti to help the disenfranchised in one of the world’s poorest countries .
Brandy Hagel, 26, who was born and raised in Osoyoos and graduated from Osoyoos Secondary School in 2008, has been selected as one of 25 runners who will spend eight days running 370 kilometres across Haiti. Her proud parents, Liz and John, still call Osoyoos home.
Hagel has been selected as one of 25 runners who will run from the northernmost tip of Haiti to the southernmost beginning Feb. 16.
Team Tassy was founded by Ian Rosenberger of Pittsburgh, who ended up riding in the back of an old pickup truck while doing humanitarian work in Haiti following the horrific and deadly earthquake that killed 300,000 and left 1.5 million Haitians homeless.
Rosenberger met a young boy named Tassy, who had a tennis ball-sized cancerous tumour on his face. The boy had survived the earthquake.
Rosenberger realized that with the right resources, Tassy and other Haitians could climb out of the ladder of poverty. He arranged, with friend and donors, to have Tassy visit Pittsburgh for a series of surgeries and today Tassy is a college student in Pittsburgh who is filled with a bright future.
Rosenberger formed Team Tassy and has been holding a fundraising ultramarathon for the past five years.
The goal will be to raise close to $50,000 (U.S.) to help 140 Haitians who live in a small village called Menelas in Port-au-Prince in Haiti, the Caribbean’s poorest country that was devastated by last year’s Hurricane Matthew and the horrific earthquake in 2010.
Hagel, who is a third-year nursing student at the University of British Columbia Okanagan (UBCO) in Kelowna, heard about Team Tassy through a friend named Paige Marzinzek, who showed her a YouTube video about the struggles of so many in Haiti.
“After watching that video, I wanted to join that day,” she said.
She applied and was accepted almost a year ago and she has been training and looking forward to what she knows will be a life-altering experience.
Another friend from Kelowna, Mike Kent, who owns a meal preparation company in Kelowna that provides food to Third World countries like Haiti, knew Hagel had been accepted to run the race in 2017, so he offered to pay for her to accompany him to visit the country last summer.
Hagel spent 10 days meeting the children and families she will be helping through the run and said it changed her life.
“I worked in a summer school with a bunch of the Team Tassy kids … and worked on skills that will allow them to graduate because without education they have no future,” she said. “The goal of the actual run is to raise money so we can place all of these family members in good, dignified jobs because having a decent job is the only way to get out of poverty in places like Haiti.”
Despite the dire poverty and overwhelming tragedy caused by the recent hurricane and earthquake, Haitians are amongst the nicest people she’s ever met, said Hagel.
“They are so welcoming, so friendly and so happy,” she said. “I’ve never felt safer or more welcome in my life and I’ve done quite a bit of travelling the past several years.
“They welcomed me into their homes and fed me with the little food they have. I can’t say enough good things about the Haitian people. They are so thankful for the little they have and remain positive no matter how much they’ve been through. They are incredible people.”
Hagel played volleyball and soccer in high school, but was never interested in running as an athletic pursuit until she left for Kelowna to attend university.
“The truth is I couldn’t afford a gym membership when I first moved to go to school in Kelowna,” she said. “So I started running as a cheap way of staying in shape. As I got in better shape, I decided to run my first half marathon. That’s when I fell in love with running. I’ve been very serious ever since.”
“Running is the one thing that keeps my life in balance and I quickly fall off balance if I don’t train. I always find the time to run … it’s very important to me.”
Hagel will be travelling to Haiti with her boyfriend Brody Lynott, who will be one of the 150-strong support staff with Team Tassy. Their mutual friend Queen Gallacher will also be a part of the support team.
Most of the other runners are from the United States, including Rosenberger, and a handful from Haiti, she said.
Having to run long distances for eight consecutive days is going to be challenging, but Hagel said she has put in the training and is really looking forward to going back to Haiti and meeting other members of Team Tassy.
“When I think of all of the family members we will be helping and playing a big role in them landing dignified jobs, I will have no trouble taking another step. That’s what will keep me going,” she said.
A company called SoLo Energy Bar from Kelowna has donated a portion of proceeds from every box sold by Hagel and members of SpinCo, a spin class studio in Kelowna, donated proceeds from every Monday night spin class throughout the month of January.
Several family members and friends have also made generous donations, she said.
Hagel said being selected for Team Tassy and participating in the run across Haiti is fate.
“My two biggest passions in life are running and helping people,” she said. “I will get to combine both by being a part of this wonderful event.
“My motivation is going to be knowing I’m going to be making a difference in helping a lot of people get out of poverty by finding good jobs and that will keep me putting one shoe over the other.”
When she finishes her nursing degree, Hagel said she plans on returning to Haiti – and other Third World countries – to lend her skills to helping the poor.