Members of EF Shanghai's winning women's and men's teams pose for a photo with their trophies. Back row (from left): Megan Bloem, Katarzyna Zakrzewska, and Sarah Edson. Front row (from left): Kenn Shiel, Mike Heath, and Zhiming Jiang.
SHANGHAI, May 4, 2012 — When she learned that Shanghai would be hosting China’s first J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge in October last year, Sarah Edson was quick to start organizing an EF team.
"I was told about the race by EF Asia’s Executive VP, Ming Chen, who is a runner herself and was very supportive of the idea" Edson explained. "I love how races can build a sense of camaraderie within a group, as well as an individual sense of achievement, and since there are more than 500 people in the EF Shanghai head office, I thought the event could be a great opportunity to bring us together."
Edson emailed EF's Shanghai staff, emphasizing that the Corporate Challenge would be "an inclusive fun run/jog/walk. I wanted to ensure no-one felt intimidated" she said.
"Originally, I was just delighted that we had managed to get 70 sign-ups, since it generated a really good team spirit and everyone finished the race buzzing and happy," she said. "I am proud to work for a company with people who are prepared to go out, challenge themselves, and achieve something together."
But, as good as their sign-up rate was, EF Shanghai would go on to achieve even more at the October 20 race debut, which attracted an energetic crowd of 3,888 runners and walkers from 158 companies to the banks of the Huangpu River. It was the third largest debut in Corporate Challenge history.
Near the front of the throng, Edson would place second in the women's individual race. More importantly, her time would lead EF Shanghai's women's team to a title by three minutes. And, as a bonus, the men's team also would learn they had won their division's title by the slimmest of margins — four seconds.
"When it transpired that our top runners had qualified for Chicago, I was obviously over the moon!" said Edson.
As a result of their team victories, EF Shanghai will join Shanghai's mixed team winners from Morgan Stanley as the city's representatives at the 29th annual J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge Championship. The men's, women's and mixed team champions from each city will square off in a 3.5-mile Championship that will be run just prior to the start of the regularly scheduled JPMorgan Chase & Co. Corporate Challenge in Chicago's Grant Park.
|2012 Shanghai Championship qualifiers
|Anders Hammarback, Michael Heath, Zhiming Jiang, Kenn Shiel
|Megan Bloem, Sarah Edson, Michelle Wan, Katarzyna Zakrzewska
|Rujie Lai, Lindong Lou, Leonard Tran, Yang Xu
Some of the EF team members, particularly from the men's team, which won by such a narrow margin, still can't quite believe they will be going to Chicago to compete against the best corporate running teams in the world.
“Shock and surprise," said Mike Heath, Progress Manager for the Product Strategy and Development team, about the victory and trip to America. "I thought it was simply a fun run! It has really got me motivated to train again.”
"I couldn’t believe it was true!” said Anders Hammarback, a Swedish national, working as Production Director for EF in Shanghai.
“Disbelief ... and then straight into making a training plan,” said Kenn Shiel, Vice President Product Development at EF Shanghai.
But Edson, who is British and works in the EF English First global online sales & marketing team, believes that amazing things can happen if you are willing to take a challenge:
"Running is very much a driving passion outside work, but I am more of a long-distance runner. I am also co-race director for Kenya's only ultra-marathon, the Amazing Maasai Ultra," she said of an event in which participants can explore the Kenyan highlands with the Maasai in a 1-day 75km Ultra, 42km or 21km race, scheduled this year on September 29.
"We hold the race near Mt. Kenya to raise money for Maasai girls’ high-school scholarships," said Edson. "Last year, we raised enough to send 20 girls to school, full-board, for four years."
So, because of her involvement in the Amazing Maasai Ultra and the Corporate Challenge, it has been quite a year for Edson, who said she was thrilled with how the Corporate Challenge fits in with EF Shanghai.
"The EF Shanghai (Corporate Challenge) team was comprised of a great mix of local Chinese and ex-pat staff, and running as a team helped bring us together, regardless of our very diverse backgrounds and cultures," she said. "In fact, this fits well into our company mission: to break-down cultural barriers through education!"
EF's championship teams reflect that global diversity and spirit.
The women's team features Edson, Michelle Wan, Megan Bloem and Kate Zakrzewska.
Wan, for example, says she is "a typical Chinese, but with a western mind."
"That’s probably why I joined EF Shanghai - a multicultural company with lots of open minds," the office manager said. "I have a French husband, who cooks great food in his restaurant and a cute 2-year-old son, who has started speaking both Chinese and French. They are both proud of me for running in Chicago!"
Bloem is an International Teacher Recruiter for EF with dual-citizenship (U.S. and United Kingdom) who said she enjoys exploring Shanghai on early morning runs when the city's usually bustling streets are still empty.
And Zakrzewska is Polish and works at EF as a Project Editor, writing online and offline English language course content. Her favorite running memory is running a cross country marathon at night.
"Lots of people with flash-lights running across the forest — that was great," she said.
The men's team is equally as globally diverse.
Sarah Edson finishes the Amazing Maasai Ultra last year. The girls ran with Edson the last 5km of the 75km course. The race, co-directed by Edson, raises money for Massai girls high-school scholarships.
For example, Zhiming Jiang, the fourth member of the team, describes himself as "a tall guy from central China, and a software engineer at EF. I like running because it keeps me calm — the best way to relax after a day’s work! I enjoy listening to country music when I'm running."
Shiel, a former runner, said the Corporate Challenge "has motivated me to get back into running with the help from Sarah and Mike on our team, who are keen runners and take part in competitions as far afield as Africa! The highlight for me was coming through the finishing line and sprinting past several people at the end and knowing that if I hadn’t had that last burst of energy and tried my very best we may have missed the boat since the first place was so close."
Now, as they prepare for the Series Championship, Edson, for one, has no illusions about EF will stack up against the other teams in Chicago.
"The running culture in Shanghai is still very young, so we have a long way to go to match the standards of other cities," she said. "I think the male and female EF teams are both feeling very humbled to have qualified for the Chicago Championship and to be running alongside some world-class runners from the other cities. We had no prior expectations and were totally amazed and delighted when we found out the final result! The majority of the qualifying members of the EF Shanghai teams, including myself, have never been to the U.S. before - so this really is a very exciting opportunity for us.
"We are all very much looking forward to the Championship and will be heading to Chicago hoping to make EF proud," she added.
One suspects that they already have.