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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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A&M Professor races to help refugees

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A&M professor Kati Stoddard competed in the Ironman Maryland Saturday with the goal of raising money to help refugees in Europe.

Texas A&M professor Kati Stoddard competed Saturday in the Ironman Maryland with a bigger goal in mind than crossing the finish line: helping refugees.
Stoddard, a plant pathology and microbiology professor, began training for Saturday’s triathlon in June with the goal of raising money for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHRC) in an effort to help mitigate refugee suffering. Stoddard’s online fundraiser brought in $490 at time of press and is still open for donations. Stoddard said she decided to use her journey to raise money for refugees because the refugee crisis in Europe and the Middle East weighs heavily on her.
“The one thing that they really need is money,” Stoddard said. “So I did my research and I found the group that I could trust is the UN Refugee Agency, so I set up a personal fund site that went directly to them, and decided that I was going to try to raise money through doing a 12-hour indoor cycling event and also my Ironman.”
The Ironman race included a 112-mile bike ride, a 26.2-mile run and a 2.4-mile swim, which ended up being canceled due to weather.  But Stoddard said despite the weather and other obstacles she had to face, the other two events of the race went well and she finished in 12 hours, 44 minutes and 51 seconds — two hours faster than her goal of 14 hours.
“I had a flat about halfway through on the bike … A bike support vehicle came by and was able to change my tire,” Stoddard said. “I started the run and it was in an area subject to high tide and low tide and then they had flooding on top of that so there was several parts of the run where we had to run through flooding either up to our ankles and in some places up to our knees … But overall it was a good race and I learned a lot and had a good time and finished.”
Stoddard’s training typically consisted of 12-18 hours a week spending a lot of time swimming in a pool or in Lake Bryan, cycling on College Station country roads and running. Additionally, she participated in a one-day indoor cycling challenge to prepare.
“There are these cycling videos called Sufferfest videos and they are essentially indoor cycling videos that are set to footage from pro races,” Stoddard said. “I rode my bike indoors for 12 hours and that was a mental training day because I figured if I could do this, I could do anything else.”
Stoddard said she perceived her training as a parallel to the involuntary suffering refugees endure.
“I viewed it as I know that I am putting myself through this torturous training voluntarily and I have the freedoms and abilities to do that but other people have been put through hardships and sacrifices that they shouldn’t have to be put through through no fault of their own,” Stoddard said. “I want to raise awareness and money to help them.”
Heather Wilkinson, a colleague of Stoddard’s and fellow A&M professor, said this campaign is nothing atypical of the ambition Stoddard typically shows in life.
“I think it is what I would expect from Kati — she’s an extremely driven person in everything she takes on,” Wilkinson said. “The fact that she attached [the triathlon] to something she feels so passionately about is also quite admirable.”
Stoddard said she was inspired by her friend Leigh Carruth, who has been involved in various causes including childhood cancer, suicide prevention and To Write Love on Her Arms, a campaign that advocates for helping people struggling with addiction, depression and self-harm.  Carruth said Stoddard’s campaign shows her passion for helping others.
“She is a lover of the underdog and feels very strongly about refugees and feels very strongly about trying to do her part in any way she can,” Carruth said. “Combining her love of Ironman and her love of humanity and trying to make the world a better place is totally fitting for who she is as a human and what she stands for.”
Carruth said advice she would give anyone wanting to start a campaign like Stoddard’s is to focus on the passion.
“Find what you are passionate about what is it that makes your heart race — for good or for bad,” Carruth said. “What makes you want to see someone in need and step in and help?”
Stoddard said this is just the beginning of her triathlon campaigns and she plans to participate in the Ironman Arizona in the future.
“When they announced the swim was canceled my husband and I just looked at each other and said, ‘Alright, I guess we’re doing Arizona,’ Stoddard said. “In four to five years I’ll probably do Ironman Arizona and then I’ll probably do another fundraiser … I hope that the refugee crisis has been solved by then and I can find a new cause to support.”

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