They started an MBA together, and finished a Desert race together.  Part 1: How a team of MBA students supported and motivated one another to train for a Desert race (by Ela Howard)

Doing an MBA is difficult enough as it is whilst trying to fit in attending classes, taking exams, completing homework, group assignments and class projects, going to networking and social events, and seeking jobs and career planning. And imagine also having to fit in training for a 70km desert race in Inner Mongolia, no less. That’s what these 6 students — Blair, Jessica, Kim, Livia, Wendy and Yoyo– forming the HKUST MBA YASHA 8 Desert Race Team along with 38 other HKUST MBA students are doing (which is their biggest turn out yet since the event started 8 years ago). Even though everyone has a different reason for signing up to the race, they all have one goal in common: to come back with the Sand Gull Award from the Asian-Pacific Business Schools Desert Challenge (Yasha Challenge), held 27 April – 1 May 2019. The Award is given to the school where their teams complete the entire 3 day race in the designated time. 

Throughout this journey to prepare for the Yasha Challenge, these hardworking women have learnt so much more than what is expected of them to pass their exams. They have learnt about teamwork, and what it truly means to be there for one another; they have trained hard together, and have experienced highs and lows together. 

Women in sports empowered

In between their training and MBA course work, these six women still found time to chat with me to talk about their experiences preparing for and competing this year’s race during the last weekend of April.

Training

For most people, finding time to train for a marathon or even half-marathon can be tough. Blair, Kim, Jessica, Livia, Wendy and Yoyo, however, have been able to find the time between their exams, and projects to engage in various types of physical training. They started in November, going every Saturday afternoon to run at the track. Alongside this, they did weight training at the gym, HIIT sessions, as well as running hills and on the sand to acclimatise their bodies to the terrain. 

However, it was evident that every woman had time constraints when it came to training. They were able to overcome this by creating a training strategy that best suited their needs: whether this meant waking up early to work out and starting the day feeling more energized, or working out at night to relieve stress, they created training plan that became a part of their daily routine, rather than a chore.

Bonding

As the saying goes, “Friends who train together stay together.” This is very much the case for Blair, Kim, Jessica, Livia, Wendy and Yoyo. Through their shared adventures, they have become closer than ever. Once, during a hill training in Sai Kung, the map reader had them take the wrong turn and they accidently ran 23km instead of 13km, and they ended up in a construction site. Then there was the dealing with classic Hong Kong problems during these runs, such as coming across cows in the middle of the road, monkeys in trees, and being chased by terrifying dogs. As I sat and listened to them reminisce about these fun-filled moments, I could sense how close and supportive they are of each other.

Teamwork and “extra motivation”

For this year’s racers, the most important aspect of a successful race was their teamwork. The Yasha Challenge has had a big impact on them because of the people. Within the team of 44 people, they were split into different teams, where each person played a different role.  Teams A and B were responsible for the 70km challenge, while Team C, ran the 33km challenge along three days and provided support to the Teams A and B. Team C was also responsible for setting up tents and preparing the essentials and food. 

One aspect that makes this year’s HKUST MBA YASHA 8 Desert Race Team so special is they unanimously decided to cross the daily finish line together as one team. This may sound like a nice idea but it added extra pressure for the female racers because the men had a different cut off time than the women, and if the women did not make the finish line before the cut off time, the whole team would lose the chance of winning the Sand Gull Award. Yet this motivated the women to push themselves even further and to show their commitment to one another by finishing as one team. 

Creating leaders through racing

Not only has the race brought the team closer, it has also taught them some valuable life lessons, and allowed them to put into practice what they have learnt through their MBA, such as organizing their team and the event by themselves. Many logistics were involved: transportation, accommodation, equipment, and team registration – which was not an easy task with such a large group of people. With the little free time they had, each had to contribute whatever they could to help out. As Blair said “Everyone has different talents, and we use it as leverage for our team”. 

With such a diverse group of people with different opinions and ideas, it was inevitable that sometimes there were sometimes conflicts or disagreements. It was a great way for them to learn how to work together in a group and people manage in a real life setting. Preparing for the race has been applicable to their MBA because it allowed them to put into practice the theory and skills they learned in class into real life situations. It’s an immersive experience where they have to work within a budget, to manage other people, and give and take feedback from one another. At the same time, because they play a dual role of being racers and event organisers, the race will forever have a special meaning to them, and one that they will treasure

At WISE HK we often focus on either women who play sports in Hong Kong or how sports has helped women in the corporate world. To me, what stood out about Blair, Kim, Jessica, Livia, Wendy and Yoyo’s story is that this is a special situation where the women not only stuck to their goals, and physically achieved something amazing, but they have also honed so many leadership qualities through the experience of helping to organize the event. These women have gone above and beyond what was asked of them to complete their MBA, not because they felt the pressure or need to, but because they had a genuine passion and drive to be part of creating something monumental and special to them. And it’s inspiring to see them make such a positive impact in this way. 

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