"We came to China to change lives; ours have been changed. We came to China to inspire; we have been inspired. We came to China to ignite hope; a flame has been ignited deep within us. We came to China to be part of history; but we have been embraced and leave as part of the future."
After running the more than 4.5 million steps over 3 months, extreme adventurers and philanthropists, David Grier and Andrew Stuart concluded their 4200 kilometer run of the Great Wall of China on 3 July 2018. The run, which they undertook in partnership with Fresenius Medical Care, has created widespread awareness of kidney health and chronic kidney disease (CKD) throughout China and the wider Asia–Pacific region.
David Grier first ran the Great Wall of China 12 years' ago, with his journey starting in Jiayuguan City. In completing the run now — in the other direction — David has become the first person in history to run the Great Wall of China in both directions.
We asked these generous men to share some of the inspiring, as well as the more challenging, moments of their journey.
When asked if there were any moments in their journey when they thought they may need to give up, David reflected: "In a journey like this, there are continuous moments where you doubt yourself. But when you take an injury and put it on top of that doubt, that’s where you can really go into a downward spiral. That’s when you need to really dig deep. And that’s where I’ve always found that if you want something badly enough, you’ll be astounded what the human body and the mind can achieve when they work in unison".
Andrew continued: "There were times when you were injured when you felt you might have to give up, and that was the low point of the journey for me. But through the media, we could see the support we were being given by the Fresenius Medical Care team, friends, family and supporters at home, and that somehow just made the impossible, possible. I always knew that with this support, we would somehow get through".
During the early part of the run, David and Andrew were challenged with treacherous weather and excruciating tendonitis. But they had made a commitment to people living with CKD, and so the pair was determined to maintain their can-do attitude and to make up lost time, running for 42 days straight without a single rest day. In one of those weeks, they covered a mammoth 420 kilometers.
When they were running great distances in heat, it was essential for the pair to be well-hydrated, and they needed to weigh this up against how much water they could carry at any one time. There were moments running through the Gobi Desert, where temperatures can soar to 50°C and above, when this became a little hairy: "When you have the signs of dehydration, and you're thirsty and your throat is dry and you feel your tongue swelling in your mouth, it’s weird, you get this funny little panic in you and you never stop scouting for water", explained David. "So Andrew coined the phrase of the 'drip system' where we wet our mouths and our throats, making sure that it was just enough to sustain us until the next sip — which becomes all you can think about".
Over the last three months, David and Andrew's paths have crossed with hundreds of healthcare professionals, patients and members of the public — from Beijing to Yulin to Kunming — and each encounter has etched an indelible mark on the pairs' lives. David recalls a young man and his father who ran a kilometer with them in Kunming. Later in the day, he was surprised to see this same young man in a hospital bed receiving dialysis. "Our run was about inspiring people living with CKD", said David. "Yet here was this person inspiring me!"
The time the pair spent with healthcare professionals caring for people living with CKD equally stands out with David describing hard-working nurses they met as "the backbone to ensuring patients who get through their treatment and ultimately lead a better life".
Despite the great distances covered, the pair feels that this is where the journey to greater awareness of kidney health will really begin. While they were running, thousands of people in China joined them virtually, accumulating their own daily steps using a WeChat Great Wall Program developed by Fresenius Medical Care China. To date, the public has counted over 3 billion steps, or 2.3 million kilometers of their own. The Fresenius Medical Care China WeChat and further media activities gained high interest with around 300 million page views.
Mr Harry de Wit, CEO of Fresenius Medical Care Asia-Pacific, who ran the last seven kilometers of the Great Wall with David and Andrew, considered the significance of this campaign: "Throughout their journey, David and Andrew have brought a new awareness about the importance of kidney health to the wider community. They have ignited a flame of hope for people living with CKD — especially those living in rural areas who often have limited access to treatment. We are proud to have captured the energy generated by the run and used this as fuel to invest further in China, enabling more people living with chronic CKD disease to access life-saving services."