An unexpected adventure

Jason Schoellkopf

There are plenty of reasons for a college student to not fly to Europe and run a marathon right after finals. After tireless studying, most students want to relax—not run 26.2 miles in a foreign country. Having severe asthma and airborne food allergies would put a trip like that off the table for most students—but not for Emily Thompson.

[media-credit name=”Photo courtesy of John Allen/Creative Commons” align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]Emily Thompson, a Quinnipiac freshman in the 3+1 biology program, leaves on May 23 to run a marathon in Edinburgh, Scotland to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The trip is coordinated by Choose a Challenge, an organization that allows college students to fundraise their own adventure travel trips while also raising money for charity. In the past, Choose a Challenge has taken students from different colleges to Machu Picchu, Mount Everest and Mount Kilimanjaro.

In order to participate in the Edinburgh Marathon, participants like Thompson must raise $3,000. Half of that money will fund the trip and the other half will go to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Thompson is currently trying to raise the money.

“I’ve asked family members, set up donation jars and put it out on Facebook. I’m not looking for people to donate $50 or $100,” Thompson said. “I would prefer that a lot of people donate a small amount of money than a few people donate a large sum of money. I’d rather a lot of people recognize the cause than have a few people know about it.”

About 50 students from Quinnipiac University and the University of Connecticut are participating in this event. So far, their efforts have generated enough money to grant two wishes to children with critical conditions.

“Even though two wishes seem so insignificant because it’s such a small number, to those two people, it means the absolute world,” Thompson said.

One would think that only a very passionate runner would decide to run a marathon. But, that isn’t true for Thompson.

“I hate running!” Thompson said, laughing. “With asthma, I have an excuse to not like running. I have a lot of reasons not to run a marathon in a foreign country. But these aren’t really valid excuses when I have two working legs. The kids that I would be helping by raising money for Make-A-Wish have it way harder than I do. Nothing I’ve gone through can compare to how some of these kids are growing up. ”

In addition to asthma, allergies to common foods like wheat and eggs pose another difficulty for Thompson. Because of this, her parents were not keen on the idea of her going to another country.

“My mom immediately said no,” Thompson said. “I’ve never traveled out of the country and the two times that I traveled out of state prior to coming to Quinnipiac, I had anaphylactic reactions.”

Despite her mother’s apprehensions, her aunt found a way to ease her nerves and let Emily go on the trip.

“Come Christmas time, my aunt had booked a flight for herself and my mom to Scotland,” Thompson said. “So they’ll be coming with me. My mom knows how much this means to me and I think she’s really proud and excited to see me complete a marathon.”

Thompson believes that her sympathy for the children who are part of the Make-A-Wish program comes partly from her childhood. As a child, Thompson’s health problems impacted her social life and gave her a greater understanding of what it’s like to be separated from other people.

“In second grade, my teacher was really worried about my food allergies,” Thompson said. “So I was told I could only eat lunch with one friend each day, and they had to make sure they had nothing I was allergic to. I hated it. I always wanted to sit with other people and socialize with everybody. If somebody was sitting alone, I wanted to go and sit with them. I’ve just always loved being around people, so when I was treated like something was wrong with me, I hated it.”

When Thompson thinks about the hospitalized children she will be helping, she thinks of the first time she went to the hospital for her asthma.

“When I was hospitalized for three days, my classmates made me cards and they were all delivered to me,” she said. “That’s what I think of every time I think of the kids who will benefit from Make-A-Wish. I felt so happy when kids were sending me cards to make me feel better. So, I want to make other people feel better.”

Another influence on Thompson has been her mother, who helps to deliver babies as a labor and delivery nurse.

“I think just having grown up in such a medicine-minded family has impacted the way I think about going to the hospital and knowing the kind of stress that puts on somebody,” Thompson said. “I just really care about other people and I try to put their needs in front of mine. That’s why I forgot about the asthma and the allergies when I got the chance to help people.”

The Edinburgh Marathon won’t be the first time that Thompson will help a nonprofit organization. In her senior year of high school, she hosted her school’s Special Olympics, which had over 500 participants.

“I’ve always just loved kids and I want to help out in whatever way I can,” she said.

Thompson has been training for the Edinburgh Marathon since November. She is currently on a 16-week training schedule leading up to the event. Each week of practice, she adds an additional mile onto the distance she runs. By May 6, she’ll be running 20 miles for her practice routine.

In addition to the marathon, Thompson and other participants who signed up for the Choose a Challenge event will get to explore Scotland independently and on guided tours. Emily, her mother and her aunt are especially excited to visit the Edinburgh coffee shop where J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter. After the race, she will part with her family before she heads off to London as part of the program’s extension trip.

To help Thompson raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, visit: