Philanthropist and adventurer determined to raise $1 million for international children


Approximately 20 hours had passed since Martin Parnell and his guides Lau and Kidori began their ascent up Mt. Kilimanjaro.

The air was thin and their extremities near freezing, but they had a schedule to stick to. With nothing but hydration packs on their backs, the next hour would prove not only to be a physical breakthrough, but a mental one for the small group.

On the evening of March 7, 2013, Parnell, along with his guides, reached the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania in 21 hours, — a nearly impossible feat. The summit of the highest freestanding mountain in the world is usually conquered in five days.

Parnell became an adventurer with a taste for marathon running later in his life. Having completed his first marathon at 50 in 2003, Parnell says he knew running was something that would keep him busy. “I was never much for sport but I always knew I could run and run and run,” he said.

Parnell’s story. Produced by Olivia Condon and Megan Bilton

A cycling trip to Africa in 2005 inspired Parnell and instilled in him the desire to change. He spent many days playing various sports with underprivileged children in orphanages along his journey. Through his interactions, he said he came to understand the importance of playing sports in the development of children.

“(Playing) is a universal understanding. I saw the effects of sport on the lives of these children across the African continent and I was inspired,” he said.

Upon his return to Cochrane, Alta., where Parnell and his wife, Sue Parnell, call home, he was introduced to the charity Right to Play in 2009, which “empowers children through sports programs in some of the most disadvantaged parts of the world.”

In 2010, after years of planning and preparation, Parnell made the goal of running 250 marathons, five a week, in the hopes of raising $250,000 for Right to Play. On Jan. 1, 2010, Parnell began his “Quest for Kids.”

Parnell’s wife of eight years said she thought her husband was crazy.

“Did he tell you I made him go see the doctor?” Sue joked. “I was very shocked when he told me what he wanted to do. It was tough at times, if I’m being honest. Inside I wanted to tell him to stop all this craziness.”

The year pushed on and so did Martin, but Sue said there were times when she thought they might not make it.

“Of course there were setbacks,” Sue adds. “He was injured a month into the Quest and used up all of his free days. We even had to squeeze in our daughter’s wedding,” she said, laughing.

Ten thousand kilometres, 250 marathons and countless pairs of sneakers later, Parnell had completed his first Quest for Kids and raised $320,000, which exceeded his original goal by $70,000.

Another trip to Africa, this time to Benin, in 2011 inspired Parnell to carry on his journey and try to complete 10 ultra Quests, including Quest number seven, to reach the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

His goal was to raise $1 million in five years through 10 quests.

To date, Parnell has completed eight quests in just less than four years, has raised $570,000 and helped more than 25,000 children worldwide.

What’s next? Parnell is currently training for his ninth quest, the Rotary Coastal Quest 630, where he will run 630 miles along the southwest coast of England. In March 2014, Parnell will begin his journey in hopes of raising £100,000.

The dates and location of his tenth and final quest are still unknown, but Parnell says it will be big.

“I don’t know where I will go or what I will do next, but I am optimistic because these kids have gotten me this far,” he said. “We’re all winning either way.”

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