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Images: Icy dip ends AIDS run

Icy dip ends AIDS run

A marathon run the length of New Zealand ended today with an icy dip in Foveaux Strait. A team of nine Auckland students calling themselves RunNZ reached Bluff in the early hours of this morning, on a mission to combat AIDS. They celebrated their arrival by diving into the sea.

The nine students set off from Cape Reinga 18 days ago, to commence the historic relay run, covering a distance of 2011 km. En route they spoke to schools and community groups about the AIDS menace and raised money to support World Vision programmes to assist AIDS orphans and vulnerable children. Exhausted run organiser and participant Geoff Cooper said he felt the team had really achieved its aims.

"But our mission to fight this deadly disease will be ongoing," the Auckland University sports science student said.

"We got the right people in the right places and developed a passion inside everyone to run for a cause which needs such desperate attention. Most of the team have suffered from blisters, knee problems, torn hamstrings and other minor twinges, but we felt we have gone through minimal pain compared to those living in AIDS-affected communities. Pain they must go through every day.

Geoff said organisation for a 2005 event is in preparation.

"We feel that we now know how to go about organising an event and we can make it even more effective."

The runners, many of whom had never set foot in the South Island before, said the support from the community had been excellent.

"World Vision's network of volunteers* fed and housed us throughout our trip. It was just amazing how the whole World Vision team came together. World Vision was definitely our support team, and the running team also has been very strong and worked together as a team.

Geoff said support from schools has also been strong. "Different schools we've visited have held mufti days, coin trails, and local churches have put on events for us. People in the community have been very interested in what we've done in the schools. There is a real concern throughout the country about AIDS here in New Zealand. STDs are so high in NZ; sometimes we feel we're immune but we're not. An AIDS epidemic could easily happen here."

Echoing that concern are figures just released from the AIDS epidemiology group at Otago University Medical School, showing an alarming rate in the rise of new HIV cases, as well as increasing numbers of sexually contacted diseases. The Health Ministry has just launched a $4 million campaign this week in an effort to prevent an AIDS epidemic in New Zealand. And nine Auckland tertiary students have run for 18 days on a shoestring to bring the message home to New Zealanders.

*Appropriately, today, Friday 5 December, is UN Volunteers Recognition Day.


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