Megaport supports the youngest female ever to complete the ‘Racing the Planet 4 Deserts Grand Slam’ – four ultramarathons across four continents – in the name of mental health.
In December 2018, Jacqui Bell weaved her way through the waist-high snow of Antarctica to complete the final leg of the Grand Slam and ultimately, become the world’s youngest female to do so. Wearing a Megaport badge on her beanie, and flying the flag for Australia, Jacqui pushed through gruelling conditions to get to the finish line.
We came into contact with Jacqui through our own Elle Poulus. Jacqui is a good friend and a personal trainer at Elle’s gym in Brisbane – 12 Round Fitness Greenslopes. When we heard about the incredible task she was taking on to support the White Cloud Foundation, we knew we wanted to be a part of this momentous effort and support her all the way.
Check out our interview below as Jacqui talks about her road to Antarctica, her incredible achievements, and what’s to come for 2019.
Charlotte: The ‘Racing the Plant Four Deserts Grand Slam’ is one of the most grueling challenges in the world. How do you prepare for something like that?
Jacqui: I set out just eight months prior to Race One and at that stage, I was running about 30 km a week and doing about four gyms sessions.
Over the next six-plus months, I increased my running to over 100 km a week and was doing lots of training to put myself out of my comfort zone. This included four-hour long runs in the middle of the day in summer without music, doing burpees for an hour, completing a marathon on an assault bike and ski erg (tough machines), and sitting in a sauna a few times a week for an hour, trying to push through the need to get out. Lots of things to help me get used to being uncomfortable.
Charlotte: What was the experience like, completing the Antarctica ultramarathon? How did you feel as you were running?
Jacqui: Antarctica was surreal. I get pretty excited even thinking about it but it was such a whirlwind I still need to let it sink in. Completing Antarctica was different from the other races due to the format being different. Each day meant being on a different island and running a one to two km loop for 10 to 12 hours – so it was very repetitive and mentally tough! Running through the soft, sludgy snow was very difficult; for the first few hours, the snow was always very soft and sometimes knee to hip deep! Antarctica is picture perfect though!
Charlotte: Why did the challenge mean so much to you? Tell us about the White Cloud Foundation.
Jacqui: Over the past few years, I found myself without a clear direction and was leading a life that wasn’t aligned with my values, at all. I found myself struggling to find my purpose and, in turn, lost all my drive in life. At my worst, I was spending days in bed – my depression got pretty bad at some points.
A year and a half ago, I realised that nothing was going to change unless I took action and that it was up to me to make my life better. So, for me, it’s running that’s given me that purpose back and I’ve finally found my passion for everything life has to offer.
The White Cloud Foundation is a mental health charity that believes that for a person to be happy, they need not only mental health but also physical, social, and emotional health – I couldn’t agree more! That’s why I set out to raise awareness and funds for this charity.
Charlotte: You had some great sponsors on board supporting you during the race, what does this mean to you?
Jacqui: Honestly, the whole year wouldn’t have been possible without my sponsors – especially with the races being in such isolated and remote places (at literally the ends of the world).
I was lucky enough to find companies, like Megaport, that I align with. So, I set out in approaching them to be involved. To have sponsors see something in me and my goal is amazing; their support is never taken for granted. I feel that all of my sponsors are really making a difference; that it’s about much more than me running these deserts and it’s bringing a lot of people together.
Charlotte: You’re the youngest female ever to complete the Grand Slam which is amazing. Do you feel like you’ve achieved what you set out to accomplish?
Jacqui: 2018 exceeded all of my expectations. I’ve met the most inspiring people along the way, have been to some amazing places, and had the craziest experiences. Being out in the desert alone, with nowhere to turn and no one to turn to in times of struggle, when you think you can’t continue on, is definitely a character-building situation.
Charlotte: 2019 brings a fresh new year of challenges ahead, I’m sure. What’s the next running/fitness goal you’re going to take on?
Jacqui: I really never expected to find such a passion for ultra running. I ran my first 50 km ultra four years ago – when I was just 20 – and now, four years on, after a lot of ups and downs, I’m back running farther distances than I could have imagined and I love it. It’d be insane for me to not do something I am so insane about!
In 2019, I’ll be competing in three more ultramarathons with the first being a 323 km six-stage race, fully self-supported, in New Zealand with the longest day being up to 90 km. The following two are in Iceland and the Grand Canyon! I’m really looking forward to taking on this next challenge and seeing what I am capable of.
If you want to know more about Jacqui’s journey, I recommend listening to Katherine Feeney’s ABC Radio interview here. I don’t know about you guys, but I feel super proud to work for a company that supports initiatives like Jacqui’s. Looking forward to more community engagement in 2019.