TransRockies Run Sponsorship: William & Hibah Use Running to Stay Connected

TransRockies Run Sponsorship: William & Hibah Use Running to Stay Connected

TransRockies Run Sponsorship: Will and Hibah Use Running to Stay Connected

Despite their differences and thousands of miles, this couple knows they will always have at least one thing keeping them together

“I will never run a marathon with you!” exclaimed Hibah.

She and Will were on their first run together, and things were not going well. It was the spring of 2020—Memorial Day, in fact—and COVID had shut down many indoor activities, leaving running as one of the few things the new couple could do together. 

The day had started out on a positive note. Will recently decided he was going to get in shape and woke up that morning intent on doing a scaled-down version of a MURPH workout—a 1-mile run, followed by 100 push-ups, 100 pull-ups, 300 squats and then another 1-mile run. He put in his first mile around 9 am, and then headed over to Hibah’s so they could do the workout portion together. The workout went off without a hitch, and the two agreed to do the final run together later that day after a movie and some well–earned recovery time.

“We had just made a bunch of popcorn when we started to hear thunderstorms rolling in,” says Will. “I thought I needed my three hours of recovery before running another mile, but we decided we had to go before the rain started.”

Will suggested they leave from his place, where they could run a nice flat stretch of road. But the storm was approaching and time wasn’t on their side, so Hibah suggested leaving right then and there.

“I was like ‘whoa, your neighborhood is kind of hilly, I don’t want to do it on hills,’” remembers Will

But, as much as Will hated hills, the two chose practicality and set out from Hibah’s place. Will was not impressed. Describing himself as a little rough around the edges, he made his way through the mile cursing and swearing in the face of Hibah’s constant and cheerful encouragement.

“All I could think was, ‘just stop talking, just stop talking,’” chuckles Will. “Then I reached a breaking point and snapped, yelling at Hibah to shut up and stop talking.”

“For me encouraging him, and for the positivity, that’s what I got!” laughs Hibah.

And what did Will get? Confirmation that he and Hibah would never, ever be running a marathon together.

Fast forward to 2022 and, in just two short years, things have changed dramatically. Will and Hibah look back on that first run together and laugh. Running is a massive part of their lives now and, in many ways, is a defining part of their relationship. 

Their inspiring story is why we chose to sponsor Will and Hibah for the TransRockies Run—an annual 6-day trail running stage race that takes place in Colorado from August 1-6, 2022. The sponsorship is a Kahtoola tradition and it’s our chance to give a team that might not otherwise be able to attend the opportunity to experience the challenge, adventure, community spirit and positive energy of the TransRockies Run.

This will be the couple’s first stage race, but we have no doubt their connection to running, to each other and their unique personalities will see them through this exciting adventure. Running has helped Will and Hibah through tough times, and since that fateful Memorial Day in 2020, it’s kept them connected when it seemed like nothing else would. 

Running Through Difficult Times

Born in Virginia, Hibah traveled a lot with her family through her teenage years. They lived in Japan, Georgia (the US state) and eventually, Dubai. All that moving around meant Hibah often found it hard to fit in. But at age 15 she discovered running, and it became a constant that she could take with her wherever she went, including when she left home and moved back to the US.

“I fell in love with running in high school in Dubai, but then moving away from my family, and across the world, I was able to run for the cross country team at Berry, where I went to college,” says Hibah. “It helped me meet people. I had a family away from home and a great coach. It was such a big part of my undergraduate life and after that, I was able to take running with me to vet school too, where my classmates started running with me every day at lunch. Watching them grow as runners was really special.”

As running became a lifestyle for Hibah, she learned the value of using her passion for running for a greater cause. When she and her family traveled to Palestine to visit relatives, she was introduced to Right to Movement (RTM), a social running group that advocates for freedom of movement for Palestinians through running. With RTM, she ran the Relay Run for Refugees in 2019 from New York to Washington, D.C., and also ran the Chicago Marathon with Team Palestine where she raised money for the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF). Through these experiences, running became a way of sharing a core part of herself with the world.

For Will, who grew up just outside of Atlanta in Peachtree City, Georgia, running came later. But he credits it with helping him move forward when things seemed bleak.

Prior to meeting Hibah, Will’s mom had passed away from breast cancer, then his father was injured on the job and forced to retire. All this happened when Will was 22 and just out of college. In his words, he was “ready to tackle the world” but instead, he moved back home to help out. What he had thought of as a picture-perfect life up until that point seemed to be crashing down around him.

Eventually, Will went back to school to work on his master’s degree, but he took a cold view of the world with him. That all changed when he met Hibah.

“I was kind of in a rut,” recalls Will. “But meeting Hibah was like a fundamental shift, and I’m just so grateful for her and her introducing me to running and a whole host of other positive things.” 

Although running is now an important connection Will and Hibah share, it was academics that first brought them together. And it would take some time for Will to fully embrace the sport.

An Acquired Taste

Will and Hibah met for the first time at a mock outbreak put on by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in the spring of 2019. Their diverse talents—Hibah, studying veterinary medicine and Will, epidemiology and disaster preparedness—landed them on a team working to find the source of an unknown disease. 

But it wasn’t until later that fall when they ended up in a biological statistics class together at the University of Georgia, where they were both pursuing Master of Public Health degrees, that the two began to really connect. 

“We started doing social things together because we were friends in this class,” recalls Will. “We went to trivia nights and other social events, and then I think in January or February of 2020, we had our first date.”

But as luck would have it, COVID soon shut down most social activities and the couple was forced to find creative ways to spend time together. And that meant spending more time outside.

Putting Their Differences Aside…Outside

Amidst the shutdowns that were beginning in early 2020, Will and Hibah both reluctantly put their studies on hold and took jobs working remotely for the Department of Public Health. 

“Because it was virtual, we had a ton of free time,” recalls Hibah. “And we were mainly doing things together outside because we were following quarantining rules.”

The two spent time hiking and walking in parks and around the local botanical gardens where they lived in Athens, Georgia. They talked and learned as much as they could about each other. As time went on, the hikes got longer and Hibah eventually convinced Will to try running.

“In the spring of 2020, I was totally out of shape,” recalls Will, “But I was sort of in this anxious period because I thought I would be graduating in 2020. Instead, I saw the world shut down and job opportunities were evaporating. I was getting nervous about my future and needed an outlet, so I turned to running, almost out of desperation.”

It wasn’t something Will expected would last.

“I remember when Will was training for his first 5k he said, ‘no, I’m not a runner, I’m just doing this during COVID,’” recalls Hibah. “But I could see he was turning into a runner and that this was going to be a long-term deal.”

And Hibah was right. As reluctant as Will was to take up running, it has become an important part of his life—of both of their lives.

For Christmas 2020, Hibah bought Will a Garmin watch and around that time Will joined Hibah’s running club.

“That’s when I realized I was kind of just in it now,” recalls Will.

From that point on, they were both all-in on running together. Importantly, it’s become a way for them to connect, even though they have very different views on a range of subjects. 

“On the drive to a run we can put on a podcast and talk about our political and religious views,” says Will.

“And then we can run and forget about our disagreements,” adds Hibah.

After an uncertain start for Will, running had grown into a way for him and Hibah to bond. But that connection was about to be tested in ways neither of them could have foreseen.

An Enduring Connection

In the spring of 2021, Hibah finished a veterinary internship at the University of Georgia and took a veterinary residency in Davis, California. Will graduated that spring but decided to stay behind to look for work in Georgia. They both knew they were making the right choice, but it was a difficult time, especially for Will.

“I did not handle it well at all,” recalls Will. “I wasn’t in a great place—my girlfriend had just moved away and I had been out of work since graduation. But I thought back to when I started running and did my first 5k. I just ‘got on the horse and rode it.’ So I signed up for the Boston Virtual Half Marathon and I got a lot of joy out of raising $1,000 for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute as part of that. It gave me something to focus on instead of dwelling on my predicament.”

And it’s been running that has kept Will and Hibah connected through all of the highs and lows of being apart. In fact, it was while living apart that they ran their first marathon together—well, almost.

Crossing the Finish Line Together

Soon after moving to California, Hibah signed up for the California International Marathon (CIM) to try and qualify for the Boston Marathon. Seeing an opportunity, Will decided to travel out to California and run part of the event with her. 

His plan was to do the race as a relay with another person. Will would run the second half, so that he and Hibah could finish together. It would be the first time they had seen each other in months, and the first time since Hibah moved to California. 

“On every run, I’d done with Hibah up to that point she was a machine—smiles all the way, loving every minute of it,” says Will. “When I caught up to her on the second half of that marathon, I was so excited to see her. But when she turned to me, I saw something I never had before. She had nothing left!”

Moving slower than usual, Hibah encouraged Will to run ahead and finish with the best time he could. 

“I think I was on my first runner’s high in that marathon because I was just cooking and feeling great,” remembers Will. “So I took off. But then about 30 seconds later, I turned back. I was worried that Hibah might not make her qualifying time. With the memory of that first Memorial Day run in my head, I just started throwing out the positivity and from there we were determined to finish the marathon together.” 

And they did. Hibah also got her qualifying time. 

“Will was really encouraging and helpful at the end of that race,” admits Hibah. “He made up for that Memorial Day run.”

Now one step closer to running a marathon together, Hibah and Will accomplished more together that day than they could have apart—an undertaking that will serve them well as they take on the TransRockies Run later this summer.

TransRockies Run: The Adventure of a Lifetime

For Will and Hibah, the TransRockies Run—on top of being a challenging, bucket list experience—is yet another opportunity to connect through running. And they’re excited about sharing the experience.

“Ever since we were told that we were chosen for the TransRockies Run, we’ve been planning and sharing our training goals with each other,” says Hibah. “We’re far apart, but we’re training together. So it’s exciting.”

Going into the Run, the couple’s goals are simple: finish every stage, stay positive and have fun.

“I’ve always wanted to take another step after a marathon,” says Hibah. “I’ve done five of them now, but never anything like the TransRockies Run. And to do that with Will is going to be so special.”

“First and foremost, I’m excited,” adds Will. “Throughout my life, I’ve found that the best way to learn is jumping in head first and learning to swim as you go. So that’s how I’m going to approach it.”

William and Hibah know that teamwork will be crucial to finishing strong, and they have no doubt their different, but complementary, personalities will be an advantage. 

Always the planner, Will will be collecting every bit of information about the course and gear that he can get his hands on—from maps to websites, to YouTube videos to social media influencers.

“I’m the one making the logistics checklists and booking the hotel and flights,” admits Will.

And once on course, Hibah’s laid-back personality will help them deal with any challenge that comes their way.

“I just think things will work out, adds Hibah. “Whatever is meant to be will happen.”

Although they love running, Will and Hibah aren’t all business when it comes to the TransRockies Run.

“Traveling to Colorado and sleeping out in a tent is already a dream for me,” says Will. “So this is like a vacation and running is like paying the price—a price that we love to pay! And whether we’re crawling across the finish, or sprinting, it’s all about working together.”

Hopes, Dreams and an Uncertain Future

So what’s next for Will and Hibah? After the TransRockies Run, the couple isn’t sure. Once Hibah finishes her residency in two years’ time, she’d like to work internationally as a large animal veterinarian. At the same time, Will is unsure where his career will lead and is leaving the door open to go back to school to pursue a Ph.D. 

“We support each other and haven’t tried to stand in the way of each other’s goals,” says Hibah. “We’re following our dreams and doing what we’ve always wanted to do.”

“We don’t know how we’re going to get to the finish line,” adds Will. “But we know we’re going to cross it together.”

And although the future is uncertain, there is one thing Will and Hibah both know: running will be a part of both of their lives. And who knows, maybe they’ll even get around to running that marathon together someday.