Grad Runs 250km in Bolivian Expedition

By McKenna Strole

Recent NDC graduate Jess Suvak was chosen to be an international youth ambassador and recently traveled to Bolivia to take part in a 250-kilometer run while participating in chemistry experiments.

Suvak participated in impossible2Possible’s “Expedition Bolivia: La Ruta de Sal,” an expedition across the world’s largest salt flats in celebration of the International Year of Chemistry. She was one of four youth ambassadors in addition to nine other members on the expedition team. The youth ambassadors were picked from thousands of applications filled out online. The other nine members on the team included doctors, trainers, and chemists.

“I received the e-mail while babysitting, and woke up all the kids in the house screaming,” Suvak said about being chosen. “I then called my family and friends to share the great news of my excitement and nervousness.”    

With her limited running background and thousands of competing applicants, Suvak was surprised to be chosen.

“I found out about impossible2Possible from a friend here at Notre Dame, who knew of another girl who went on the last expedition in the Amazon,” Suvak said. “I then kept up with the website and their Facebook page until they made the next application available for Bolivia.”

Impossible2Possible is a nonprofit organization with the mission “to encourage youth to reach beyond their perceived limits, and to use adventure as a medium to educate, inspire and empower our global community to make positive change in the world.”

Highlights of the expedition are online at

Suvak thought she had little chance to receive this once-in-a-life-time experience. But after filling out the online application, she received an e-mail asking for an interview. Three days after the interview, Suvak got an e-mail that changed her summer plans.

After receiving the exciting news, she began to build relationships with the other expedition members. Her female counterpart is Ashley Hassard, a student at the University of Western Ontario; the other two ambassadors are Ryan Montgomery, a junior at Pendleton High School, and Canadian Brandon Sands, a senior at Oskayak High School in Saskatoon, Sakatchewan.

Since Suvak and the other ambassadors ran 250 kilometers over a period of seven days, they ran, on average, nearly a marathon (26.2 miles) a day. To prepare for this daunting task, John Zahab, the trainer on the expedition, created a running program for Suvak that included running and core/strength training.

A three-sport athlete in college (volleyball, track, and softball), Suvak knows how exhausting running for hours at a time is. To prepare, she ran a minimum of five miles a day with two workouts a week and two long runs on the weekend that ranged from two to three hours.

Not only did Suvak run every day in Bolivia, she also participated in experiments that were broadcast live to middle and high school classrooms across the country to teach students about chemistry.  

“The most important part about this expedition is not the running, but the knowledge we will be teaching our live audience,” Suvak said prior to leaving for Bolivia.

Suvak and her team conducted experiments on sodium, chloride, lithium, arsenic and many other elements they find in the salt flats while running. They also conducted tests on the youth ambassadors, observing their electrolyte use. To document every step, a camera crew followed them on their journey. Suvak also took along a Flip camera to take photos and record videos.

Although this was an incredible opportunity for Suvak, it also caused her to miss her graduation day at Notre Dame and kept her from walking the stage to receive her long-awaited diploma.

“I won’t walk here, but I will be running in Bolivia, which seems like a fair trade off,” Suvak said the week before Commencement. “All my life I have looked up to people who inspire and empower others to bring change to the world. I hope with my journey I can touch at least one person’s heart to do the same.”

McKenna Strole is a freshman majoring in communication at Notre Dame College.


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