Running for Wishes: How A Good Cause Sparked A Passion for Ultra Races

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When Pawel Szczechura, district manager for City Electric Supply (CES) Canada, declared that he was going to run a half marathon for Make-A-Wish®, it was a surprise to his team members and friends. He had no running experience.

Five years later, he’s not only accomplished his original goal, but he’s even preparing for an ultramarathon through the Canadian Rockies — and it’s all for the kids.

The starting line

While Szczechura wasn’t always a runner, he has always been up for a challenge. So when his team at CES began brainstorming ways they would contribute to the Make-A-Wish® Foundation, he decided to step outside his comfort zone.

“I said I would run a half marathon, and my friends laughed,” he recollected with a smile. “I’ve never been a runner, and it was the craziest idea I could have. But I’ve proven them wrong.”

Not only did he run the half marathon he set out to, but he also became a full-fledged competitive runner, going on to participate in some of the most difficult races around. In the past five years, Szczechura has run eight races while raising money for Make-A-Wish®, bringing his total to approximately $25,000.

Sinister Sports

Ultramarathons are categorized as any distance over 42.2 kilometers, or 26.2 miles. Distance running can be tough in any conditions, but a route through the Canadian Rockies takes it up a notch (or five). Sinister Sports organizes races here, including the Sinister 7 Ultra and Canadian Death Race, taking place in the heat of the summer with courses ranging from 42 to 125 kilometers.

The routes are grueling and treacherous at times, with elevation gains of 3,514 to 6,287 meters and long stretches with no support such as checkpoints or clean water. Untamed wilderness poses various challenges, and predators such as black bears, grizzly bears, and cougars are also expected on the trails. With the remoteness of the course, medical care is not an immediate guarantee, so runners need to be prepared to wait for help if needed.

Szczechura has participated in the Sinister 7 twice and the Death Race once. He’s already started training for his next three races this summer: Sinister 7 (50 miles), Near Death Marathon (42k), and Black Spur Ultra (54k). And if that wasn’t imposing enough, he’ll run them all within a six-week period!


To pull off his ambitious running goals, Szczechura trains — and trains, and trains. Giving himself about six months to prepare for a big race, he focuses on building endurance rather than speed.

“To be honest, my goal is to finish,” he said. “When I start training, I practice running. Then I add elevation, and every time I think my body is done, I push it for another five to ten minutes. I try to do that at least five times a week.”

And discomfort? That becomes a friend in the training process as well. He subscribes to the concept popularly known as the 40 Percent Rule, which asserts that when you feel like your body can’t go any further, you are at roughly 40 percent of your capacity.

“You need to let yourself be uncomfortable and try to push through it, because that’s what an ultra is like; one minute you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world, and the next you’ll want to give up,” described Szczechura. “You teach your body that you can do way more than you think you can.”

All for a good cause

Make-A-Wish® was Szczechura’s motivation for learning to run, and it still is today. He typically raises about $5,000 for the charity each time he runs a race.

“I appreciate each donation, whether $5 or $2,000. Every dollar brings a child closer to having their wish granted. I’ve met a few wish kids, and it’s clear to see that what we’re doing is changing their lives, bringing a little bit of sunshine to a dark time,” said Szczechura.

When it comes to how CES has supported his efforts and accomplishments, Szczechura describes a true team mentality.

“I’ve been with CES for 17 years, and even with how much we’ve grown, it still feels like a small family business. I’ve met our founding family, the Mackies, and they’re so supportive, matching our donations and making just as much effort as the rest of us. CES does a lot to share whatever wealth we achieve through hard work, and that just makes it even more fulfilling to work here and see what we can do together,” he said.

Encouragement to others

Szczechura wants to encourage others, within and outside CES, to pitch in. While he may be competitive in his running and his personal goals, improving the lives of sick children is something he believes is best done together.

“I think sometimes we look around at what others are doing successfully and we get discouraged. But there are tons of ways to raise money and no bad ideas. Helping others isn’t a race — there’s no losing in it. Every single donation counts, and if we do it one step at a time, we’re going to cover a huge area,” he said.

After all, that’s how every race is run: one step at a time.

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