A BU Grad Student Is Running Across Haiti for Charity

It’s his second time doing so, but he hasn’t used 'I’ve run across a country' as a pick-up line yet.

Owen Mattison, left, was joined by an young man for part of last year's run across Haiti.

Owen Mattison, left, was joined by an young man for part of last year’s run. Photo provided

Owen Mattison is getting ready to go for a run. A really, really, really long run.

Next month, from February 20-27, the Boston University graduate student will traverse the girth of Haiti from north to south, covering 230 miles, all for the sake of charity.

Here’s what Mattison had to say about his grueling endeavor, and the painful blisters, ice-cold beers, and lots and lots of running it will entail:

What’s the ultimate goal of running across Haiti?

The ultimate goal is to shed some light on Haiti and show it’s not a place to be pitied or feared, but rather a place worthy of investment. That’s what we did last year, and that’s the work of Team Tassy, which is an organization I’ve supported since the end of 2012.

How did the idea to run across a country come about?

My friend Ian Rosenberger started Team Tassy shortly after the earthquake in 2010. It helps provides wrap around services—health, education, job training—to the poor in Port-au-Prince. He wanted to do something off the wall to raise money for the organization, so he ran the Sahara Race in Jordan and raised $50,000. They came back and said, ‘That was pretty cool, but we could probably do it on our own and do it in Haiti.’

And you ran across Haiti last year?

There were seven of us that ran the entire race. We ran from Cap-Haïtien, roughly one of the most northern points of the country, all the way down to Jacmel, which is one of the most southern points in the country. We did it over eight days.

So how is the distance staggered? Is it the same every day?

A simple average is a marathon or more per day, but we’re really running between major cities and points on the map. So our shortest day was 13 miles and our longest day was 56.

Have you ever used “I’ve run across a country” as a pick-up line?

Not yet.

Are you actually racing and trying to beat the people you’re running with? Or is it more of a group effort?

For the first couple of years, it’s a group effort. It’s all about finishing. I think the larger goals are to turn it into a formal race—attract people who want to come and compete and pay entry fees.

Can you describe the worst moment of the first time you ran across Haiti in three words?

Left home alone.

Explain, please.

We stayed at a different place every night, which was really fun. But this was straight out of Home Alone. We were staying in a beautiful ranch one night, and the trucks showed up to take us to the start line. And I threw my bag in the truck, and I stepped back inside to go to the bathroom. No joke, I step back outside and both trucks are gone. All 15 people I’m with are gone, and I’m stranded in rural Haiti.

Can you describe the best part in three words?

Unexpected running partners.

Pick up any lessons that might make this year’s run a bit less brutal?

I learned to pay attention to my body more. I had a pretty bad bout of Achilles tendinitis on the last day, which was the big long day that we did 56 miles.

Would your rather run on a 100-degree summer day of Haitian humidity or a 30-degree, wind-whipping Boston winter day?

Oh my god, Haitian heat every day of the week.

Are you going to celebrate the finish with a glass of Barbancourt or a bottle of Prestige?

Bottle of Prestige, for sure. That was part of the fun last year—the support crew was so great in making sure we had everything we needed, which included an ice-cold beer at the end of the day.

If you could run across any other country in the world, which would it be?

I’ve always had a love for France, so without putting too much thought into it, that would be at the top of my list.

Questions and answers edited for brevity and clarity.