IGGS Head Girls Laura Carniel and Evangeline Sturges meet former student Jacqui Bell.
IGGS Head Girls Laura Carniel and Evangeline Sturges meet former student Jacqui Bell. Darren Hallesy

Teens idolise ultra-marathon runner at school visit

IN the years since she walked out the gates of Ipswich Girls' Grammar School (IGGS), Jacqui Bell has made her mark in the world as an ultramarathon runner which has taken her around the world.

Last year the 24-year-old conquered the Four Deserts Ultra-Series, which involved running through Namibia's Namib Desert in April, Mongolia's Gobi Desert in July, Chile's Atacama Crossing in September, and Antarctica in November.

The concept for the series was to run 250km each over the hottest, windiest, driest and coldest deserts on Earth.

Jacqui is the youngest woman to complete what is called the 'Grand Slam' of running four deserts in the sport of ultramarathons, and the road led her back to her old school last week as guest speaker for the schools' regular Inspiring Leaders Breakfast. She shared stories of her adventures, and how she has raised money for the White Cloud Foundation, a mental health charity.

"I think the run in Namibia was the hardest," Ms Bell said. "I really wasn't prepared for it and had no idea what I was in for. My mental and physical state when I passed 180km made it really tough. I think the third day was the toughest as far as conditions go in Chile. It was sand dunes, rocks, salt, mud flats.... very uneven. That's why I prefer to run on sand in a desert over grass. You can see what's ahead, whereas with grass you can hurt your ankle in pot holes.

"When I'm running I'm going over in my head what pace I'm doing and working out the maths. Often I just enjoy the nothingness, loving being where I am and what I'm doing. My favourite part of this sport is that we are all on the same playing field. I can be there with CEO's for example, but we are all on common ground."

Jacqui had to think hard about her favourite moment during her running adventures.

"One of the best things I'd done was on one day I was running in Chile and saw this massive lagoon, that was pretty cool, and the other favourite is probably Antarctica running alongside penguins. We were there in summer, and it got to about negative 21 degrees, which wasn't too bad, although I did run one day totally wet when I fell through soft snow into water, and I couldn't get out. It was like quicksand. Luckily someone helped me out."

The former IGGS student has kept her ties with the school, even working as a gym trainer for two years. She said she was stoked to invited back to present at the breakfast.

"I like Ipswich. I know people give it a bit of stick from time to time, but I still love it here. We have everything we need. I loved growing up here. Now I work as a Personal Trainer and I have very understanding bosses," Jacqui said. 

"Next, I'm off to run The Grand Canyon, then maybe back to race again in New Zealand, the people there were amazing. Often when you do a race you have to carry everything you need for the week, which can slow you down, but I'm keen to improve on times now.

"I guess my ultimate run would be back in Europe. I worked in Italy when I was 18 as an au pair, and my dream would be to run across Italy, that would be epic."

Jacqui was interviewed by the school's two Head Girls, which was a thrill for them both.

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