Maria Conceição, founder of the Dubai-based Maria Cristina Foundation, who became the first Portuguese woman to reach Everest’s summit last year, now has her sights firmly set on a double Guinness World Record attempt while undertaking the 777 Challenge – seven full-distance 50-kilometre ultra-marathons, to be run on each of the seven continents, across seven weeks – which is officially known as the world’s toughest race.
Maria is a Portuguese national who was raised and educated in various countries including Switzerland, London and Italy.
It was during a stopover in Dhaka while working as cabin crew for a Middle Eastern airline that she first became aware of the plight of the street children in that city, and became determined to create for them the same opportunity for a better life that she herself had enjoyed.
In 2005 she established the Maria Cristina Foundation (MCF), which aims to provide schools and education for the street-children of Dhaka, Bangladesh.
To date the MCF has helped hundreds of children gain an education, and a further 35 have gone on to full-time employment in top corporate companies in Dubai.
After conquering Everest last spring, to raise funds and awareness about her foundation, for the past six months Maria has been training to run what is officially recognised as the world’s toughest endurance race, the 777 Challenge.
Completing the 777 Challenge entails running seven full-distance 50-kilometre ultra-marathons on each of the seven continents in seven weeks. The first of the seven events will commence in Antarctica, this Sunday, 26 January.
The route then takes Maria to South America for the second leg of the marathon on 2 February, followed by Asia (7 February), Europe (16 February), Australia (23 February), North America (2 March) before wrapping up in Africa with the last marathon on 15 March 2014.
The 777 Challenge also presents Maria with the opportunity to claim not one, but two Guinness World Records - Fastest time to complete an ultra-marathon on each continent (Female), and Fastest aggregate time to complete an ultra-marathon on each continent (Female) – which she aims to take.
Ahead of her mammoth challenge, Maria Conceição told The Portugal News: ““My aim is simple: to raise $1 million and draw global attention to the Foundation’s pioneering work, which has been to challenge the class system and to break the vicious cycle of poverty in Bangladesh by helping the impoverished to live up to their maximum potential. Running these seven ultra-marathons is going to be the toughest challenge I have ever taken on, but that is nothing compared to the daily struggle our kids face on the streets of Dhaka.”
In May last year Maria became the first Portuguese woman to reach the top of Everest, having started the climb at the beginning of April. She has also trekked to the North Pole, summited Aconcagua and Kilimanjaro, and climbed Denali in support of her charity, amongst many other achievements which have helped make real differences to the lives of the children she strives for.
“For the past nine years MCF has nurtured and fostered hundreds of young boys and girls who have shown tremendous potential to pursue higher education. I would like to secure educational scholarships and employment opportunities worldwide, to formulate a sustainable long-term partnership with corporations and educational bodies. The Foundation has placed 35 young adults in jobs in the UAE and Oman since 2005, and a number of young students are currently studying in the UAE under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Nayhan Bin Mubarak Al Nayhan. Currently, we have 529 dwellers registered under our two flagship programmes, known as ‘Butterflies’ and ‘Catalysts’ projects, waiting for scholarships, educational support, or employment opportunities in Bangladesh and abroad”, she elaborates.
Deservedly, many will agree, Maria’s remarkable efforts have been recognised by various institutions. Among some of her recent achievements she has been nominated for the Portugal Athlete of the Year 2013, Sustainable Leadership Award 2013, Great Child Welfare Award 2012, Most Inspiring Woman in GCC 2012, Emirates Woman of the Year 2009, Humanitarian Woman of the Year 2009, and Most Inspiring and Exceptional European Woman of the Year 2007.
See www.mariacristinafoundation.org to learn more.