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Olivia runs for Christchurch

Olivia Bell completing New York City marathon

16 Aug | 2012

Christchurch earthquake survivor completes NYC marathon.

A Christchurch woman who was caught in the disintegrating Press Building during the quake on 22 February 2011 ran for her life then. Some eight months later on 6 November she ran the New York Marathon to raise funds for the city’s quake-affected families.

Olivia Bell decided the money would go to The Salvation Army’s recovery work in the city after talking with Salvation Army Senior Services Coordinator in Wanaka, Jo Shaw. At the time, Jo had been in Christchurch doing psychosocial support for those affected by the quake.

Olivia’s prime motivation to raise funds for Christchurch by running her first marathon, was the terrifying experience of surviving the 6.3 magnitude quake that spelled the end of the four-story, 102-year-old Press Building.

The roof of the building partially collapsed injuring three colleagues on the fourth floor where Olivia was working as an editorial assistant on the city’s daily newspaper. One Press employee died in the quake.

Olivia endured a long series of tremors, the deafening noise of the building breaking up and an escape down a few flights of stairs and out into the chaos of Cathedral Square, which was hardly recognisable. She says the experience left her traumatised.

‘That day really did affect me, it was a pretty close life/death experience,’ she says. ‘Straight after the quake I was a bit of a mess. I couldn’t stand being alone and it pretty much changed my outlook on life.’

She eventually left Christchurch and her family and friends and settled in Melbourne. ‘I felt guilty moving away from my family and friends, but it was something I needed to do at the time.’

Olivia’s athletic pedigree includes rowing, road cycling and half marathons. Encouraged by her mother, she had applied for a start position in the New York Marathon a month before the February quake. Because of the high demand, starting places for the marathon are selected by ballot with more than 100,000 people applying for a slot. Last year, 47,000 runners finished the course.

Providence seemed to play a part and, on arriving in Melbourne, Olivia found she had been accepted for a start in the marathon. ‘I couldn’t believe it and right then I knew I had to do something for Christchurch,’ she says. ‘The Salvation Army has done an amazing job in Christchurch so that was my obvious choice.’

After a rigorous training schedule and receiving running technique and nutrition advice, Olivia crossed the finish line of the New York Marathon last November in 4 hours, 5 minutes. She says she found the marathon challenging and seeing her support crew twice really helped her dig deep. 

Olivia’s initial aim was to raise $10,000 but her dedicated efforts surpassed this, raising $15,850 to assist with trauma counselling for children and families who have been affected by the earthquakes.

‘Raising money for The Salvation Army’s work in Christchurch was the best thing I have ever done,’ she says. ‘I will never forget the support I had along the way.’

The Salvation Army thanks Olivia for her outstanding support of the people of Christchurch.