She’s a “why not?” kind of girl. A journalist and the owner of a worm farm. Her least favorite book is Catcher in the Rye, but she loves The Power of One. She has nightmares that she says always start around the same time–4:47am—but she still says it is good to dream. She’s a self-described bully, and was a contestant on “Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?”
“And no,” she says wryly. “I am not smarter than a fifth grader. I couldn’t spell ‘iridescent’.”*
Her name is Christie Peucker. Pronounced more like ‘Piker’ than ‘Puker,’ she says, despite the way it looks. I met her while walking into the lobby of the RJ Brown Hotel in Beijing. I was excited, because unlike many hotels in India I had been to, it was both impeccably clean and it had a bar. It was also very well located for exploring on foot—a five-minute walk to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. It was a brand new place and I was ready to explore it.
As I talked with Christie, I realized that she too was ready to explore. She is 31, affable and boisterous, the kind of person who never has a problem making friends. And at this moment, she seemed like a kid who wanted to go out and play. I was happy to follow her lead.
Like me, she had come to China to race on the Great Wall. She was running the full marathon (I had opted for the half marathon, as running half as many steps seemed twice as appealing to me). It was her first-ever marathon, and it also happened to be one of the most difficult in the world—the incredibly steep climbs (including 5,164 steps ) challenge even the fittest runners. Perhaps the clearest indication how tough the race would be: The world record for marathons is about 2:05. The record at the Great Wall race is 3:15.
Though she joked about not being a fast runner, she was quietly confident about the race itself. Her tenaciousness is at the surface, masked in pleasantness but still easy to see. As she said to me later in her thick Australian accent, more philosophical than cocky: “I don’t like to fail at things. I don’t fail. It’s not really something I do.”
She had first decided to do the Great Wall Race in 2002, when she ran her first half marathon. “They gave me a flyer,” she told me from behind fashion-framed glasses. “I said ‘I’m going to do that one day.’” You can hear the pride in that last part, the realization that she’s on the doorstep of accomplishing that goal. She does what she says she’ll do.
And when she crossed the finish line, it would only be the beginning. Because Christie has said that she has 11 more challenges to go.
It’s called 30 Days for 30 Years. Every month for a year, Christie is going to do something she’s always wanted to do. A “bucket list” of sorts, to be accomplished well before most people think about kicking it.
Pearl farming in Australia. Eagle training in Mongolia. Visiting the Holy Land and Dollywood. “They are random things that I’ve always wanted to do but been too busy working to do,” she said. “People don’t take time to do those random things that can actually bring you quite a lot of joy.”
I was struck by the idea. It is so ambitious, specific, adventurous and most of all: gutsy. It is so cool. I peppered her with questions, most notably “Why?”
She was miserable, she said. Working too hard, unable to enjoy the life she’d created for herself. And then one of her best friends, at thirty years old, was diagnosed with cancer. Suddenly, it all came into focus for her. Quit her job, got a new one and moved in with her parents in her hometown of Adelaide. She made a detailed plan, created an itinerary and saved money. And now, she was in Beijing, at the beginning of a year-long trek without a single guarantee.
We walked around Tiananmen Square, the red flags waving everywhere, and we took pictures of the city-block-sized buildings swathed in gray-sky gloominess and the stone-faced, green-uniformed soldiers standing guard outside of their walls. Apart from the pall cast by the perpetual smog, the scene was impressive: the scale of the buildings and the square—the largest public one in the world—immediately remind you that you’re in an important place. But it was pallid and subdued; it felt like it was created to maintain an image rather than as a place for people to gather.
Komabu Grateful-Miranda Sefakor Pomeyie.
She has a lot of names.
But I called her Sekafor as we chatted over Facebook and I sipped an afternoon beer. The Internet speed in her area of Ghana was too slow to Skype.
Each of her names means something to her–she speaks of them as if they are more gift than necessity. “Sefakor was given to me by Mum–[it] means God had comforted me, or somebody who cheers me up when I see her,” she says. The Miranda came from her grandmother, Komabu is her last name, and Pomeyie is her husband’s name. Grateful was the one given to her by her Dad when she was born.
After polio left her disabled at age 8, leaving her unable to walk, her dad called her something else.
“[It] pains me a lot how my dad neglected me and said I am a nuisance to the family,” she says. Her father, Sekafor says, thought she was “a cursed object, and because of me he ran away from my Mum.”
He wasn’t the only one to look at her as something cursed. In Ghana, she says, “most disabled people are considered second class human beings despite the disability laws.”
She remembers being a kid at school, shunned and forced to sit at the back of the class. Worse, nothing was set up for a disabled child. “I had a container in my bag in which I used to pee. The urinal was very inaccessible. That was one of my plights.”
These plights led her to be a vehement advocate of the rights of disabled people to an education in Ghana. It’s why she started Enlightening and Empowering People with Disabilities, an organization designed to create awareness and influence change in providing disabled people in Africa–including the 2.5 million in Ghana–with both the respect and the education they deserve.
Her efforts have garnered her some attention, including spots on TV about her organization. The passion is built in–years of unnecessary obstacles and ridicule have ignited it in her–but she also has another guiding force: her religion. She was raised Christian, and has since become born-again. During our chat, she mentions God several times. “Seek the face of God in all your endeavor and He will lead you through,” she says. “He is my everything.”
As for her father, he has come around a little thanks to the attention she’s receiving from the local press about her mission. “Now, I am his joy when he sees me on the television screens,” she says. I ask if she forgives him.
“Oh yes, I am a Christian and need to do that, so that I am also forgiven,” she says.
She still visits him on occasion, she says, and she’s thankful for her own children–twins, a boy and a girl, 5 years old.
“I am blessed beyond measures,” she says.