After running up a volcano in Guatemala (twice!), what’s next for Run Ottawa member Joe Rios?

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Run Ottawa member Joe Rios (pictured far left) is also a member of Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend’s Team Awesome, an online community of runners that seeks to inspire and motivate the running community through social media. Joe started running in 2009 and completed his first Ottawa Marathon in 2010. Since then, he has raised over $50,000 for charity and has run a marathon on every continent.

“A marathon is very metaphoric to your life in terms of going through hardship. When you can apply that to something that you’ve actually done, that’s so much bigger than you and the race, then it’s really powerful.”

Joe completed his first Impact Marathon in 2016; it was a trip of a lifetime to Nepal where a team of 85 runners from around the world worked with locals to build a five kilometre water pipeline for a small village in Kathmandu. When he got back to Canada he knew that he had to share his experience and inspire a team of his colleagues at EDC aka Team Canada to do the next Impact Marathon. It was a way to combine two of his passions, running and volunteering, in a way that creates sustainable change in conjunction with the United Nations’ global goals.

“The race is usually geared towards people that want to try something kind of cool and different,” said Joe. “It’s a marathon that has never been done in that area so that gives it kind of an allure.”

The volunteer portion of the trips comes before the race and is kept a secret until you reach your destination. This year, the Impact Marathon was in Guatemala, where the team was working towards two of the UN’s global goals: education and community equality.

“This one was a really interesting project because it was based with an organization called SERES which is all about youth empowerment.”

Their goal is to build a community centre where SERES can host their leadership and educational programs for youth. The teams helped clear the land for the building site and planted bamboo trees that will eventually be cultivated to build the structure of the community centre.

“I think when you actually get to meet a local community and get to see how they live it puts more purpose and more intention in terms of that you’re doing.”

Right after Joe’s team members left the building site on their first day, four other volunteers from the group were violently assaulted. For Joe and his team, this attack was a reality check. “When you hear that news, you realize that we’re just volunteers. The reality is that these people live this every day.”

The second day of volunteer work was cancelled because of the attack, but the team still had a marathon to run. For most people, the idea of running a marathon is an insurmountable feat — and it is. Joe admits that no matter what race you’re training for there’s always nerves and anticipation before the race. But what happens when the race includes running up a volcano twice in the first 20 kilometres and then running across lava fields to the finish line?

“I‘ve never not completed the marathon but at marker 27 I was ready to drop the towel,” said Joe. “It was the hardest [marathon] I’ve ever done but if it wasn’t for the community and the other volunteers I don’t think I would have been able to push through and actually finish.”

Every single person on Team Canada finished the race.

Finishing a challenging marathon like the one in Guatemala is an experience that Joe and his team members will never forget. But now that Impact Marathon Guatemala is over, Joe still believes that there is a lot of work to be done.

“I’ve gone on a lot of experiences that are really awesome but they become a memory because life continues,” he said. “I wanted people to put it out there and say, ‘now that you’ve experienced this what does it mean for you? And how are you going to continue that message?’”

As for next steps? Joe is already working with Impact Marathon to find the perfect location for their next trip. He’s also looking forward to running the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend this year with Team Canada and Team Awesome.

“Team Awesome is basically one family that is supporting everyone,” he said. “We actually haven’t even met each other all at once but we support each other through social media. We’re the cheerleaders online.”

Community engagement is so important to Joe. Whether it’s the crowds in cheering stands lining the streets of Ottawa every May or the team members who inspired him to finish the race in Guatemala, Joe believes that the connections you make with people through movement are the ones that change the world.

“You can take a group of diverse people and put them into an experience like this and no matter where you’re from, no matter how different you are, people will come together for a greater cause.”

Follow Joe Rios on Twitter and Instagram. You can still donate to Joe Rios’ and Team Canada’s ‘Guatemala Global Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities’ campaign here.