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Two women in coats and snow pants walk across snowy ice road with mountains in the distance.

Officer tackles ultra-marathon in support of northern homeless

RCMP Cst. Marie-Josee Martel (left) participated in the Arctic Ultra race with her friend Jen Stronge (right) to raise money for homeless residents in Inuvik, N.W.T. Credit: Weronika Murray

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Walking 320 kilometres through the Arctic tundra was never something Cst. Marie-Josee Martel thought she could do.

"I'm an outdoor adventurer, but I never imagined doing something this intense," says the 37-year-old RCMP officer based at Inuvik detachment. "It tested my strength physically and mentally in ways I've never experienced before."

This past March, Martel competed in the 6633 Arctic Ultra race with her friend and training partner Jennifer Stronge.

The footrace has a notorious reputation as being one of the hardest and coldest ultra-marathons in the world, where athletes face harsh weather conditions, exhaustion and isolation. The gruelling nine-day race spans 616 kilometres from Eagle Plains, Yukon, to the shore of the Arctic Ocean in Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories.

Martel and Stronge both live and work in Inuvik, N.W.T., and wanted to use the race as an opportunity to raise money for the Inuvik Emergency Warming Centre, which provides shelter and support for homeless and transient people.

"It's an everyday reality through my work — I interact with homeless people on a daily basis and I see their struggles," says Martel, who's policed in the North for seven years. "They often walk all day and all night just so they don't freeze."

When she was training for the race, Martel says there were many mornings when she didn't want to head out in the -30 degree weather to run for several hours. "But I would think about how a lot of those people have been out there all night walking just to stay warm. It gave me motivation — I thought if they can, I can."

Although she had to withdraw from the race midway due to an injury, Martel says support from the RCMP kept her going.

"Every time we made it through a community, there would be an RCMP police truck there," she says. "I'd see my coworkers which brought me so much pride. I'm almost crying thinking about it."

Now back home in Inuvik, Martel is determined to sign up for the Arctic Ultra in 2019. And she encourages other RCMP officers to use their policing skills to try new things and conquer new challenges — both professionally and personally.

"At the start of my quest for fitness three years ago, I never thought that I'd be able to run 320 kilometres," she says. "Open yourself up to do these things, it's possible. You can really do anything you set your mind to, no matter what it is."

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