Adventure, Records and Constructive Nationalism

As with other troubled lands, many of the most educated citizens of Pakistan live abroad. Those in the diaspora often feel torn between multiple allegiances. They contend with feelings of guilt-laden compassion for their land of origin, while registering relief on fleeing turmoil. What do we owe our lands of origin? How can we enjoy the creature comforts of affluence in developed countries when so many like us are relegated to lives of poverty and despair? What can we give back to our lands of origin while not denying ourselves the fruits of our labour overseas?

Thanks to the wonders of social media, I recently reconnected after twenty years with an old high school friend from my days at Aitchison College in Lahore, Pakistan who exemplifies a novel way of building pride for his land of origin while living a luxuriant life abroad. Ziyad Rahim has found a way to combine his passion for adventure travel with constructive nationalism for Pakistan and also his adopted homeland of Qatar (not to mention his Canadian citizenship as well which has made visa-free travel much simpler for this admirable globe-trotter). He is capitalizing on a human impulse that transcends borders and resonates with nationalities worldwide – breaking world records! From sports to academics, record-breaking continues to be a quest that unifies communities. Which country broke the most Olympic records? Which university has the most Nobel laureates? What is the largest, fastest, oldest, smartest entity – these are perennially asked questions particularly by youth in developing countries. Records matter – they test human endurance and give us a sense of hope – or to use president Obama’s term, they give “audacity” to hope.

Ziyad’s quest is also to combine travel and adventure to humanize the image of Pakistan by sporting far and wide in extreme competitions that give the people and media he encounters an appreciation for Pakistanis beyond the headlines. He currently holds the Guinness World Record for completing a marathon on every continent (including Antarctica) in the shortest span of time. He accomplished the ‘Marathon Grand Slam’ in 41 days and 20 hours on April 9, 2013, breaking the previous record of 324 days registered on 26 February 2007. He broke the record at the North Pole (site of the most extreme marathon event worldwide) and as he passed the finishing line he had a Pakistani flag in hand.

Through this process he also raised funds for various charities which could help causes back in Pakistan but also for worldwide efforts to show how a collective humanitarian outlook. Some of his charitable highlights include:

  • 2010 – Ran 3 marathons in consecutive weeks in UK to raise funds for the Pakistan Flood Victims that affected approximately 20 million people.
  • 2012 – Completed the 250km Marathon Des Sables, considered the toughest footrace on earth, to raise awareness for Noma disease in West Africa.
  • 2013 – Achieved the Guinness World Record for fastest to complete the Marathon Grand Slam while raising funds for CARE Pakistan.

One might ask what role nationalism should play in such global events that might otherwise foster planetary rather than particular citizenship. Yet, natural human tendencies to find affiliations within communal, tribal or national contexts cannot be neglected and such benign and inclusionary forms of nationalism help to prevent more malicious forms of exclusionary nationalism from taking root.

Ziyad still has plans for more records to be broken in 2014 – he shared some of those details with me but would much rather the public wait in anticipation. Stay tuned – there’s sure to be much more adventure and constructive nationalism from this marathon man!

To follow Ziyad’s adventures visit his web site:

Human Journey

Meet the Author
Saleem H. Ali is Blue and Gold Distinguished Professor of Energy and the Environment at the University of Delaware (USA) and a Professorial Research Fellow at the University of Queensland, Australia. He is also a Senior Fellow at Columbia University's Center on Sustainable Enterprise. Dr. Ali is a National Geographic Emerging Explorer for 2010 and World Economic Forum "Young Global Leader" (2011). His books include "Environmental Diplomacy" (with Lawrence Susskind, Oxford Univ. Press) and "Treasures of the Earth: Need, Greed and a Sustainable Future" (Yale University Press). He can be followed on Twitter @saleem_ali.