As Mina Guli walked deep into the night along the Murray River in Australia, excruciating pain shooting through her calves and achilles, she began to wonder if she had made a mistake with her ambitious expedition for running for clean-water awareness. Running the slippery trails of the Amazon the week prior had wreaked havoc on her joints and running form.
“The pain and long hours left me completely exhausted and fatigued,” says Guli, “and I started questioning my motivation for embarking on this expedition.”
Guli, an attorney and water-rights activist, is in the middle of a rigorous endurance-running marvel, covering 1,049 miles in 40 days. And it’s all in the name of water. As her website says, “We need extraordinary commitment to ensure clean water for all. This is mine …”
Guli’s passion for the environment began early in her career as a lawyer in Australia, when she worked for a climate-change practice. In 2012, she launched Thirst, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about global water issues. According to its website, “Thirst aspires to be the world’s leading water community, affecting change in society by making consumers aware of the value of water.”
Thirst originally focused on China, where, according to National Geographic, 300,000,000 people are without clean water. The organization works with students to develop curriculum and roll out large-scale water-awareness drives and it has since gone international. Thirst and LifeStraw, a water-filtration company, joined forces to plan and support this one-woman awareness campaign. Guli is hydrating from the rivers she’s running to protect, using LifeStraw personal-hydration products.
This is not Guli’s first Herculean effort. She was reportedly told she wouldn’t run again after a back injury at 22 years old—however, she went on to complete the Marathon Des Sables (251K) and RacingThePlanet (250K), and, in 2016, Guli ran 1,688 kilometers across seven deserts on seven continents in seven weeks. Known as The 7 Deserts Run, she ran to raise awareness for her #Run4Water campaign.
The best part of this adventure for Guli is the different communities she gets to experience. After hearing about the unrest in Cairo, Egypt, her team was concerned for her safety and considered canceling that part of the trip. She forged on, however, wanting to experience the Nile, a river she’d wanted to visit since learning about ancient Egypt in high school. When she got to Cairo, she “received nothing but big warm smiles and bear-sized hugs from everyone we met.”
After extensive physical therapy on her calves and achilles, Guli was able to heal and find her running legs again. She moved onto the Yangtze in China after Australia, where she met Li Wei, a River Guardian. He told her “he had dreams of a river that my children can swim in and drink from, just as I did as a child.” Wei “rows his boat up and down the river everyday to collect trash from the water. Meeting him reminded me just how interconnected our lives are to those of our rivers.”