The incredible challenge of an ultra-marathoner who runs young people in difficulty in the Athens marathon

The incredible challenge of an ultra-marathoner who runs young people in difficulty in the Athens marathon

It wasn’t all bad in confinement: at the end of a period marked in particular by a sedentary lifestyle, many people took the opposite approach by (re)starting sport. Malek Boukerchi, ultra-marathoner and anthropologist, seizes it. He who has multiplied extreme solo adventures – the Ice marathon at the South Pole with temperatures of up to -50°, in 2013, or even crossing the desert in Mauritania independently, in 2019 – wants something else for his next challenge: people must be at the heart of the project.

“Many associations offer classic sports such as rugby, dance, football. Why not break the rules by taking young people to the legendary running event? », asks the ultra-marathoner. The adventure has begun!

The marathon, a lifelong diploma

In January 2023, the project came to fruition and Malek Boukerchi created the Les 42 association. His idea is to run a marathon for 20 young people in difficulty, aged 18 to 28, who have left school and do little or no sport. no way. But not just any marathon: “You have to get young people out of the area. And even if you have to travel, you might as well go to the origin: Athens, world cradle of the premier event of road racing. »

The desire to give themselves a goal while wandering encourages young people to register. “When young people learned what a marathon was, they discussed it with their parents who did not believe they were capable of completing this race. They set out to prove them wrong. As the training progressed, the parents changed their attitude and showed a lot of admiration and pride to their children. »

A boosted self-esteem for these young people who are losing their senses. “You don’t have a diploma but becoming a marathon runner is just like that. And you keep him for life too! », Malek repeated to these young people.

Other positive dimensions must be taken into account in this challenge. There is of course the reactivation of the “Netflix generation”, as Malek points out, essential for physical and mental health. There is also the anthropological dimension because the young people vibrated with other runners from different territories. “Some had never taken the train and those living in Seine-Saint-Denis did not know Paris! », wonders the ultra-marathoner.

Mentors committed financially and sportingly

Malek Boukerchi is working with several companies to finance and carry out this project. “Mentors” from whom he expects powerful and kind words. Eleven will participate in the adventure, such as Consuel, Grant Alexander, the Banque de France Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, and even Decathlon to finance sports equipment.

The reception from businesses is more than positive. Malek is thinking in particular of one of them who wanted to welcome young people to its Parisian headquarters to meet them. “This exchange made it possible to break down the preconceptions that exist on both sides: on one side employers and on the other young people in difficulty. »

Some companies even offer to hire young people at the end of the marathon or to actively help them by financing their driving license. “Nine were hired before the start of the marathon,” confides Malek. A professional reintegration which further motivates these young people who are all unemployed. Very involved in this project, some mentors even went to run the Athens marathon alongside the 20 young people.

Only one meal per day for some future marathon runners

Recruited with the help of local missions in Le Creusot (Saône-et-Loire), Seine-Saint-Denis, Alsace, Lyon and Montpellier, training for these 20 young people begins in June 2023. Training has also take place in the regions with the help of coaches based on site.

The body types are varied but the goal of the training is the same: to have a body strong enough to finish, whatever the timer. For six months, participants confront speed sessions, long outings lasting several hours but also basic dietetics. “I discovered that some young people only ate in the evening and that they did not have enough to afford a meal the rest of the day,” says Malek Boukerchi.

Difficult life journeys that lead the ultra-marathoner to think that he too is doing an endurance race. “We had to manage the logistics for young undocumented immigrants; it was more complicated for the trip. One of the participants received a summons to appear in court the week of departure. »

42.195 km of “tears, cries, joy and despair”

A few days before the marathon, the young people were able to visit Athens. Then, Sunday November 12, the thirteen boys and six women line up at the starting line of the marathon considered to be the toughest in the world. “The key to success was to arrive in good shape and without injuries physically and mentally. Once there, it’s a win whatever happens next,” rejoices the coach.

A great victory since all the young people managed to finish their marathon. Present throughout the journey with other supportive coaches, Malek Boukerchi admits that the young people went through all the emotions: “There were tears, screams, joy, despair,” he describes. .

Everyone has regained confidence and is moving forward. The coach thinks of Thibault: “At the end of the 12th kilometer, he started to have pain but he went for the finish line with his teeth. While his back was still bent and his head lowered, he puffed out his chest and he was proud to have accomplished this feat! »

Malek also remembers Mohammad, a political refugee from Afghanistan, telling him: “No one runs the marathon in my country. I am the first Afghan marathon runner. » “I admire these young people,” concludes Malek Boukerchi.

What’s next for the Les 42 association?

Malek Boukerchi has several ideas in mind to follow up on this successful first edition:

  • THE marathon of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. Indeed, the organization of this event allows the general public to run on the course, identical to that of great athletes. The association is currently seeking to obtain bibs.
  • Going to the United States for New York and Chicago marathons. “Marathons with a history, notably that of Chicago, the city in which former American President Barack Obama lived,” explains Malek Boukerchi.

New recruitments will be made to identify future marathon runners. Malek Boukerchi hopes that alumni will become ambassadors for this great adventure.

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