A Magazine from California State University, ChicoFall 2017 Issue

A Chance and Some Support

The Quest to Join the Seven Continents

Why not? You only live once.

She stared down elephants. Passed baboons. Eyed guards with guns who served to protect not only everyday athletes like her but elite world-class runners from Ethiopia and Kenya in their joint 26.2-mile pursuit.  

In June 2017, Michelle Vanden Bosch accomplished a feat only a few hundred people have ever done—she completed her seventh marathon on seven continents at the Econet Victoria Falls Marathon in Zimbabwe. As a globetrotter with passport stamps from more than 47 countries to her name, it was the perfect way for the former Chico State basketball star and Athletics Hall of Famer to cross the finish line of her long-distance running adventure.  

“I guess there are only a few of us who are nutty enough to go to Antarctica and run,” she said. “But why not? You only live once.” 

It was that same adventurous mindset that propelled Vanden Bosch (BS, Health Science, ’98) into her current career as a flight attendant. To stay fit, she started running between flights, from 5K fun-runs and half marathons in Portugal and Scotland to marathons in Dublin and Budapest. Now based out of Denver, working for Southwest Airlines, she always packs her running shoes and tackles the road with the same enthusiasm she once showed on the court.  

“I always attribute who I am and where I am to basketball,” said Vanden Bosch, who played for the Wildcats from 1993 to 1997, and is the women’s team’s career all-time leader in rebounds. “One can’t play a college sport and not have some kind of grit.  

It strips away your soul because it’s hard and it’s grueling and it’s tough. But it really shows you who you are and what you are made of.” 

She walked away from her time on the court with a firm belief that she could accomplish anything. When she woke up one morning in 2005 and set her sights on running seven marathons on seven continents, she knew she could do it.  

For North America, she counted the first marathon she ever ran—the Chicago International Marathon. It took four years until she conquered her next continent—Europe—in Athens, Greece. 

Two years later, in 2011, she ran the next in Sydney, Australia, to cross her third continent off the list, and in 2015 she tackled Asia with a marathon on the Great Wall of China, which challenged her not only with blistering temperatures but 5,000 stairs and countless calculated footsteps along the narrow undulating wall.  

Michelle Vanden Bosch checked off Asia in 2015 with a marathon on the Great Wall of China.

Michelle Vanden Bosch checked off Asia in 2015 with a marathon on the Great Wall of China.

Then, this year, she had the opportunity to tackle the final three continents on her list: Antarctica, South America, and Africa. 

In Antarctica, she flew in on a plane in her running clothes, was briefed sternly about leaving literally no trace, and walked two miles to the start line with not a soul present to cheer her or the 45 other runners along their way. Temperatures were just below freezing as she ran an out-and-back course along a rocky path, passing nothing but the occasional participant and penguin. 

Four days later in South America, she set a new personal record—4 hours, 1 minute. Her Africa conquest was less glamorous, however gratifying, as she suffered heatstroke and walked the last few miles to the finish.  

“The things you want the most don’t come easy,” she said. “You prepare for it, you plan for it, you train for it, and it’s just a grind.”  

Yet pride for the significance of her achievement didn’t hit her until weeks later when she was home in Colorado. A plaque for the 7 Continents Club arrived in the mail, noting she had certifiably conquered her quest on June 18, 2017.  

“It was a crazy goal and so many people along the way were so encouraging,” she said. “I had been thinking about it for so many years. When I crossed, all I could feel was I was just grateful to be done.”  

Vanden Bosch’s most important takeaway from the feat: Have fun. 

“In the beginning, I was always after time. But now, in the end, I’m slapping all of the kids’ hands and just enjoying myself.” 

—Ashley Gebb (BA, Journalism, ’08) is the publications editor for Chico State. 

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