A pretty Grand experience

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Shelbyville resident Brad Holland did something he has done several times – run a marathon – but this one was down and up in the Grand Canyon.

By Lisa King

Brad Holland spent Friday enduring just about every hardship the human body can endure – thirst, exposure to all kinds of weather, near dehydration, fatigue…you name it.


But he wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

Holland, a financial advisor who lives in Shelbyville with his wife, Audrey and three daughters, participated in a 25-mile marathon, from rim-to-rim in the Grand Canyon, all in the name of charity. The money he raised will be used to purchase a water supply system for residents in the Dominican Republic.

Holland and eight of his friends, all runners from the Louisville area, and three more from Texas, started at 4 a.m. to begin their trek, in various stages of excitement, nervousness, and trepidation.

“I had talked to somebody who had backpacked the canyon, and he said,  just expect it to be one of the toughest things you’ve ever done,” Holland said.

Holland, who has participated in other marathons – his first was a 2007 run to raise money for Kosair Children’s Hospital – trained for the canyon by running for three hours every Saturday this summer with 10 pounds of water strapped to his back.

But even so, he said, his friend’s prediction turned out to be no exaggeration.

“The severity of the conditions is hard to imagine,” he said. “You are battling altitude heat, and distance, all at the same time. We had to take salt tablets, eat every thirty minutes and drink about every five minutes to avoid dehydration.”


The route

The group started out at 6,000 feet elevation at the north rim of the Kaibab Trail – a mule trail that offers virtually no shade – and traveled down into the bottom of the canyon and up the other side, staying together, running as a group.

There was no “winner,” Holland said, unless you count the fact that all survived the trek.

“Twelve people went in, and twelve came out,” he said, laughing. “That was success enough for us.”

The most difficult part, Holland said, was climbing out of the canyon.

“We went down for about 15 miles, until we got to the Colorado River, then we headed back up a rock face with the sun beating down on us.”

“Also, it was surreal to run on a thin trail with a sheer drop-off several hundred feet right next to you. I tried not to think about it, but kept envisioning the horror if one of us slipped.”


The cause

The trek was a fundraiser to raise money for a water purification system for the poor in the Dominic Republic, a cause he has been championing since journeying to Haiti in 2010 to help in earthquake relief work.

“My life was forever changed after witnessing poverty unlike any I had ever seen, yet happiness, gratefulness, and a sense of community beyond measure,” Holland said.

He is working with missionaries in the Dominican Republican to provide drinking water, by furnishing a water system at the cost of $3,000 that can supply 10,000 people with clean drinking water.

And in reaching out to help others, along with some sore muscles, Holland gained an unexpected benefit: one of the greatest experiences of his life.


The best adventure

“The overwhelming size and beauty of the canyon is absolutely amazing,” he said. “When you see it for the first time, you are just speechless. It was very, very difficult, but absolutely the best adventure I’ve ever been on.

“I think the Grand Canyon is something every human being should see. For those who want a physical challenge and an adventure, it’s everything you could ever want all wrapped up in one.”

Holland’s daughters, Hannah, 9, Hadlee, 8, and Harper, 6, who go to school at Painted Stone Elementary School, say they can’t wait to follow in their dad’s footsteps, however distant in the future that may be.

Hannah, who sometimes runs with her father, said, “I think it was really cool what he did, running in the Grand Canyon.

Added Hadlee: “Me, too. It was awesome. I hope someday I can do that with my friends, too.”

Audrey Holland said she was excited to get a surprise from her husband and his friends.

 “It was my birthday, and I called to see if I could reach him,” she said.

Brad Holland said he was very surprised when his cell phone started ringing at the bottom of the canyon, because there had been no reception before that.

“I put my phone on speaker, and we all sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to her,” he said.

“My girls and I got to hear me being serenaded on my birthday from the bottom of the Grand Canyon,” Audrey Holland said. “That’s something you don’t hear of everyday. It was really something special.”