“I knew this was a historic day. I felt lucky to be there to capture it.”
Words and photography by Signe Vest.
Taking pictures at the first ever Palestinian marathon was quite the journey. The race itself marked the realisation of an ambitious and heartfelt project from two girls — Lärke Hein and Signe Fischer. These two amazing girls decided a run was the way to tell a different story from a place about which other, more negative, headlines often dominated the world news. I was asked if I wanted to join the project and take pictures.
A team of volunteers worked hard for months in advance and even the days leading up to the start where filled with conflicts, nervousness and tears of frustration.
My race morning began with a drive through the refugee camps, taking pictures of small, handmade signs and scouting for photo locations I could use during the race. As the mosques began their morning prayers and the light broke through a rain-filled sky, the square where someone named Jesus once roamed became a place of anticipation and excitement from the runners. Some competitors had travelled from the other side of the world; others were locals. Many had never run before, but felt this was something that they had to do. From the first shots I took that morning until the final runners came over the finish line, I knew this was a historic day for Palestine. I felt lucky to be there to capture it.
It rained constantly that day, leaving the runners with tough expressions and drenched clothes. Spectators stood at the roadside, baffled by the strange sight of hundreds of people running through Bethlehem; a sight never seen before.
Amid the confusion following the starting gun, I got a little lost and missed the bus that was supposed to take journalists around the course. Instead I found two local guys in a car and asked if they could take me to my first stop. This was how I made it from place to place: asking bystanders and policemen to get me to my next destination. I even got stuck in the traffic for 45 unbearable minutes, during which I felt like I was missing out on so many shots. Luckily I made it back just in time to see the first ever winner of the Palestinian marathon cross the finish line. The cheering brought goosebumps to my skin. Looking at the people around me, I could see tears gleaming in the corners of their eyes. This was indeed an incredible event. This was history being made; the victory of Abed El Naser Awajneh was everyone’s.
Lärke Hein and Signe Fischer’s fundraising later made it possible for Abed El Naser Awajneh to run his first international marathon in Copenhagen. The story of the Palestinian race had reached Denmark and he was cheered through the streets by hundreds of spectators.
Palestine desperately needed a story that was not about conflicts or war; I was lucky to be able to photograph this moment.
Running is such a simple thing: one step in front of the other. Yet it is so powerful.
Signe Vest has had a passion for photography ever since winning a track and field scholarship in Texas in 2002. Since then she has photographed for sport and fitness magazines, Nike and various others.
This story originally featured in print in Issue #1 of Like the Wind Magazine in February 2014. The issue is now sold out. Find out more about issues #2-#9. Like the Wind magazine is produced for runners, by runners. 100 pages of stories, beautiful images and artwork.