Sophia Walker ran an amazing 150km on July 4th and knocked off the infamous “Double Hillary” trail close to Auckland city. Completed solo, but with lots of support and friends on the way through jungle, along the beaches and over the cliff tops of New Zealand’s rugged Hillary Track Sophia had one goal in mind… to highlight domestic abuse and raise funds for Women’s Refuge New Zealand.
The New Zealand charity Women’s Refuge New Zealand works to prevent domestic violence and support women who must speak out and seek help. You can help Sophia support the efforts of Women’s Refuge by Donating here: https://
How many years have you been a runner or involved with running culture?
I’ve been involved in trail/ultra running since 2009. I came from a background of alpine skiing, hiking and climbing and trail running was a natural progression from there. I fell in love with both trail running and the trail community when I met my two best friends in Seattle, WA USA.
They introduced me to the community and local races, and invited me on an epic 100 mile run around Mt Rainier on the Wonderland Trail shortly after meeting me. I was massively underprepared and had no idea what I was getting into, but I was in good hands and loved every minute of it. I was hooked from then on.
Why did you start running in the first place?
Trail running quenches my thirst for adventure, gives me a sense of freedom, and takes me to beautiful places. I love the feeling of being out in the mountains or deep in the jungle, when you’re totally present, connected to nature and sharing that experience with friends. I adore the trail running community/tribe and have made lifelong friends through running.
Who are your greatest influences in the running scene past or present?
I’m greatly inspired by Kiwi trail runners such as Mal Law, Anna Frost and Ruby Muir. Their grit, raw talent and humility are shining examples and make me proud to be able to call myself a Kiwi (even if I am an adopted Kiwi).
How would you describe yourself? Both as a person and a runner?
I’m an adventurer at heart. I love the exploring the wild blue yonder and throwing myself completely into a challenge. I thrive on the sense of strength and freedom that big runs in remote places give me. I’m also a creative person, and part of the joy of running is cooking up inspiring plans or routes. I’m independent but also place tremendous value on the relationships in my life. Running is one way for me to explore the balance between nurturing self-sufficiency and interdependence.
I was massively underprepared and had no idea what I was getting into, but I was in good hands and loved every minute of it. I was hooked from then on.
Describe for us this great cause that you are raising awareness/funds for?
I chose to raise funds and awareness for Women’s Refuge, a New Zealand organization that supports survivors of domestic abuse.
What is it that motivated you to advocate for this cause?
I was motivated to advocate for this cause because I’m a survivor of domestic abuse. I left an emotionally abusive marriage last year and running a Double Hillary on the Fourth of July was a way for me to celebrate my freedom and my divorce being final. Not only was the run an opportunity for personal closure, it was a chance to raise awareness about emotional abuse. It was tremendously motivating to think that I might help women in situations similar to what I experienced or inspire them to find the strength to seek help and make changes in their lives.
Can you remember the moment that you decided this was going to be a reality?
I remember the exact moment that this adventure became a reality. I was out at a pub with my runner friends and said tentatively “so…I’m kind of thinking about running a Double Hillary this month to celebrate my divorce being final”. All their ears perked up, my friend Lucy grabbed my phone and said, “How about the Fourth of July?” She added it to my schedule and that was that. They were all on board to crew me, and it took on a life of its own once the word started to spread. I really had no choice after that. :-)
It was tremendously motivating to think that I might help women in situations similar to what I experienced or inspire them to find the strength to seek help and make changes in their lives.
What have been the most challenging aspects of the journey towards raising awareness of your cause?
The biggest challenges have been internal rather than external. New Zealanders are incredibly supportive, enthusiastic about adventure and kind hearted. I was deeply moved by the outpouring of support for the fundraising, the run, as well as my own journey. The most challenging part for me was “breaking the silence” and sharing my story, talking about the emotional abuse in my marriage, and trusting in myself enough to stay true to what I experienced rather than be shamed or scared into silence or self-blame.
Emotional abuse is a difficult subject to talk about, because it’s taboo, poorly understood and very personal. But for me, opening up about it has been incredibly empowering, and I’ve gained nothing but strength and support by doing so.
Nothing worth having or doing is easy. What motivates you to keep going when the chips are down leading to and during this fundraiser?
I’m motivated by love; my love of nature, movement, and the people in my life. When I feel discouraged or I’m hurting, I try to open myself up to the love around me, and to find something, anything, that I love in the moment, whether it’s beauty in my environment, a delicious snack, good conversation, music, or a smile from a stranger. When you’re really hurting, the littlest things can make the biggest difference. Those things can be enough to carry you through the darker times.
What is your approach to giving back to people in general?
Giving back to people is an end in and of itself but comes back around ten-fold. I’ve never felt richer than when I can devote my energy to helping people. It’s both humbling and empowering and connects you to the people in your life on a deeper level.
What are you doing for marketing wise to get your great cause out to your audience?
Leading up to the run, I promoted the event and the fundraising through social media. I created a Facebook page that was a huge help in both logistics during the run and fundraising.
There was also an article about it in the New Zealand Herald, which was a chance to share my story, raise awareness about domestic abuse and promote the run/fundraising. You can read the article online here: http://www.pressreader.com/bookmark/RSTFDXI9PXQ8
I’ve also created a blog to share my run report of how the Double Hillary went, as well as some of my other adventures in running. You can check out the run report here https://runningcommentarynz.wordpress.com/2015/07/09/double-hillary-run-report
My Women’s Refuge donations page is still active because people have continued to donate. https://give.everydayhero.com/nz/double-hillary-100-mile-run