On 5 July 2021, we - Joëlle Thils and Valerie Van der Veeken - will be at the start of the AAUT. The Al Andalus Ultimate Trail is a semi-supported 230 kms ultra-marathon in Andalusia, Spain. It's held in 5 stages and will take place from 5 to 9 July. Some say this race is tougher than the Marathon des Sables, which we ran in 2017 (see picture). Léo Nonet, Joëlle’s son, will also take part in the AAUT and will be the youngest contestant (19 yrs)! It’ll be a special, very special moment for many of us. Especially for Joëlle and her family. Read her story ....
Joëlle was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007. She was then 38. In 2017, after a treatment and follow-up period of 10 years, she was declared cancer-free. To mark this milestone, she decided to run the Marathon des Sables, one of the toughest foot races on earth (the MDS is a self-sufficient multi-stage ultra-marathon held across the Sahara desert in Southern Morocco. It's held in 6 stages over 7 days, covering a total of approximately 250 kms).
We - Joëlle & Valerie - first met two months prior to the start of the MDS 2017. As both of us were going to be part of the same team (TraKKs MDS Team 2017), we had a few trainings together, and immediately got off on the right foot! We instinctively knew that we liked each other and that we would stick together; an important strategy that would increase our chances of finishing the MDS. And that’s how we did it! 🏅💪🏅
We’ve been best friends since. For Joëlle, finishing the MDS was not just a huge victory, it was also her way of saying "FY" to her cancer (pardon my French 😊). A demonstration of resilience and persistence. Of optimism and wanting to live. To help other women and men suffering from cancer, Joëlle and the TraKKs MDS Team 2017 set-up a fundraising campaign and we raised about EUR 10,000 for cancer research.
Sadly, Joëlle’s cancer came back last Summer. This time, it found a way to her brain. She had brain surgery in October 2020, followed by radiotherapy and hormone therapy. We had started training for AAUT before the diagnosis of Joëlle's brain tumour. When she asked the doctors if she would be able to participate in AAUT, they first gave her the odd look (thinking “you crazy woman!” 😊) but then reassured her that she could slowly resume her training as of 1st January 2021.
Since the first lockdown in March 2020 we have been seeing each other weekly, hiking and training together. And making plans for the future. Joëlle's recovery is going well and it is simply unbelievable how much progress she is making. Hiking, biking, running, swimming, gardening, walking the dog … she does it all (together with Léo, who’s of course also training for AAUT)! The fact that she's able to do all of this, is not only thanks to her optimism, resilience and healthy way of living, but also thanks to the scientific and medical advances that have been made in the field of breast cancer research and treatments. Research is needed to prevent breast cancer from becoming a rucksack that you carry for the rest of your life!
We believe we can finish AAUT. We’ll see. Day by day. The main thing is to enjoy being in these beautiful surroundings, admire the landscapes, disconnect from our daily routine and have fun! To relish these precious moments and make memories that last a lifetime. Especially for Joëlle and Léo; mother and son doing this together. That on itself is already a gift. 💕
Make no mistake, there will also be some suffering! For AAUT is a tough race .... 230 kms, thousands of altimeters, extreme terrain, brutal Andalusian heat, no comfort, sleep deprivation, fatigue, pain …. for 5 consecutive days 🥵 Luckily, we'll be well-surrounded: with great running buddies (our wonderful MDS friends and all the Belgian runners - we already know most of them!), a professional and dedicated organisation, and an experienced medical team ..... they will certainly help us get through these difficult moments.
🎗 We also need your support! 🎗
It will make our suffering more bearable and worthwhile 😊 And it will help advance breast cancer research, especially metastatic breast cancer (which is what Joëlle is now being treated for). As Valerie works for the international non-profit association BIG against breast cancer, we have chosen to raise funds for the BIG Metastatic Breast Cancer GPS study (scientific name: AURORA), an innovative, international research programme under the BIG umbrella that requires funding. The study aims to understand why breast cancer spreads (metastases) by mapping the routes that cancer cells take to invade other organs as well as understand why some patients respond poorly to standard treatment while others respond very well.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR DONATION!
Together we can make a difference!
Should you wish to buy our little bags with seeds of sweet peas (a colourful mix of little flowers, "pois de senteur vivace"/"siererwten"), please drop us a comment or contact us.
You will be able to follow-us during AAUT. We will provide details in due time.
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🌸 Joëlle & Valerie 🌸
“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It's a very mean and nasty place, and I don't care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't about how hard you hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done!"
― Sylvester Stallone, Rocky Balboa