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HEC’s Running4Africa Allies Marathon and Primary School

Huddled amongst the 49,155 runners of the 43rd Schneider Electric Marathon in Paris were eight Italian, Belgian and Luxembourger students in HEC colors. Their baptismal marathon on April 14 also raised €5,455 for over 100 Cameroonian primary school children.

HEC Paris- Running4Africa

European 10,000 meter champion Morhad Amdouni was thrilled to break the 2h10 barrier in his marathon debut. But he was not the only one enjoying a remarkable debut performance in the April 14 Paris marathon. HEC students Marco Rosa, Federico Pittalis, Marco Bevilacqua, Alessandro Rossi, Filippo Stercoli, Nathan Baudoncq and Paul Thillen surprised their supporters with race times ranging from 3h07 to 5h34 on their maiden outings over 42 kilometers. An eighth student, Enrico Cristalli, was unfortunately unable to finish the race.

Their running performance only told half the story, however. Parallel to their excellent athletic performances, the run was at the heart of a fund- and awareness-raising campaign highlighting the plights of millions of children in sub-Saharan Africa. Thus, what had started as a slightly madcap idea six months earlier ended up being, in the words of one of the quartet who organized the campaign, “life-changing”.

Running for a Cause

“Other than being totally out of our minds, we are supporters of the idea that ‘with privilege comes responsibility’.” With simple words, Marco, Federico, Filippo and Alessandro launched an initiative last October which was to test body and soul in ways they never suspected. “Theirs was a great accomplishment which wouldn’t have been possible without these students’ ideas, commitment and passion,” said Professor Matteo Winkler.

From the outset, the Italian law academic had guided the quartet’s efforts to combine physical endeavor, philanthropy and a deep-seated ability to think outside-the-box. “We intimately believe that studying in a top business school like HEC Paris brings about some responsibility toward people who do not have the same chance,” the students wrote in their public appeal for support. “We know now that we wouldn’t be here if the countries we come from had not provided us with a solid primary education.”

HEC Paris - Running4Africa - Finish

Focus on Cameroon

The students had been jolted by UNESCO statistics revealing that almost 100 million children in Sub-Saharan Africa are out of school. Winkler opened the doors to Plan International, one of the most respected NGOs, recognized for its holistic policy to integrating children through family, community and local public service support. Since its creation in 1993, the French NGO has expanded into 21 countries and set up 56 projects. “This is an excellent initiative,” said Omoyele Olatunbosun, current president of the HEC MBA Africa Association. “We support it wholeheartedly.”

The students agreed on fundraising for the NGO’s AVENIR project which aims to provide education local Cameroonian children in the Yaoundé II district where 57% of girls and 42% of boys have no access to school. “Action is necessary to promote a change,” the group, who now called themselves HEC Running4Africa, wrote in their appeal. “We will run 42 kilometers to sensitize our friends and families and more about kids with no access to basic education.”

Intense Training

The students trained by running up to 80 kilometers a week. “We ran more than 750 km in Jouy and Versailles,” said Marco Rosa, adding that he had never run over 10 kilometers in one go. “The most difficult part was in February because of the low temperature, the rainy days and the exams sessions.”

Fortunately, it was a cloudless, crisp April day which greeted the HEC runners at the Paris marathon. Despite the perfect running conditions, the run through the French capital remained daunting, however. “Honestly, I did not expect to finish the race,” said Federico Pittalis, having hurt his knee a week before. “My plan was just to run alongside the team for as much as I could to show my commitment to the initiative.” Valiantly, he struggled over the line in 5 ½ hours, one-hour-and-a-half behind Rosa and Filippo Stercoli.

Unforgettable Experience

22-year-old Marco Bevilacqua contended with an injured knee from the very start of the adventure. “You have to plan your run, to economize every movement and to constantly listen to your body,” he advised. But the pain and discipline left no regrets. “The event has been truly awesome. The energy of the crowd along the road, the music diffused all over and the people, the friends running with you. Highly suggested to everyone. With preparation.”

Filippo Stercoli felt the adrenaline as soon as the team arrived at Charles de Gaulle-Etoile. “It was incredible, seeing hundreds of people in running gear under the Arc de Triomphe. What really made the experience great was the opportunity to run with some of my friends of HEC Running4Africa and enjoy and suffer together through all of the 42,195 meters of the race. I will probably forget about the time it took to finish my first marathon, but I will never forget who I was with while crossing the finish line.”

Meanwhile, back at the Jouy-en-Josas campus some 200 students, academics and staff members innovated their own miniaturized version of the April 14 marathon with a fundraising race of their own, Uni'Run. For the third year running, the 5-10km race raised funds for child cancer research.


"When I signed up for the marathon in October, I had no idea what I was running into. I had never run more than 10 km in my life, but I was sure it was to be a life-changing experience. Once I started training heavily I realized this was no joke. We would train four times a week and run roughly 70-80 km per week. We would usually do a long run on Sunday and keep the more technical training for the week. I did most of my preparation with (fellow-student) Alessandro Rossi, and we both ran more than 750 km in Jouy-en-Josas and Versailles. We would study different roads on Google Maps and go out in discovery. The most difficult part of the preparation has been in February because of the low temperature, the rainy days and the exam sessions.

The day of the marathon has really been something I will never forget. Seeing all those thousands of people that had gathered up all to run together 42 km was incredible. There was so much support during the whole race. We helped and pushed each other during the race and managed to cross the finish line. I am tremendously happy for how this whole marathon project turned out and I am sure it will be the first of many still to come."

Marco Rosa