"We’re all unique and individual in our own ways. If we change ourselves for others, that just takes away from the world. The more diversity, the more colour and spice we add to the world, the better it’s going to be."
"I think some life events made me grow up a bit quickly, but I always feel like I’m a child at heart. My childhood has had a lot of ups and downs, but it’s shaped who I am today, so I’m grateful."
The Point to Pinnacle is regarded as the world’s most challenging half-marathon.
The course is 21.1km long and a literal uphill battle. More than 3000 recreational runners participate every year. The finish line is 1270m above sea level, overlooking Hobart from the tip of kunanyi/Mount Wellington.
In 2017, Meriem Daoui ran the Point in Pinnacle and won — for the first time. In 2021, she ran it every day for a week.
“I called it the Everest Challenge,” she says with a smile. Over seven days, Meriem ran a total 147km at a combined elevation of 8890m — 39 metres higher than Mount Everest. She raised $12,000 for a Tasmanian not-for-profit called the Tim Blair Run for Kids Foundation, who support families going through childhood cancer. As a registered nurse working in paediatrics and oncology, the cause was close to home.
During her first 21.1km, on the first day of Meriem’s Everest Challenge, it snowed.
“The bus tour actually offered to give me a lift back down every day,” she laughs. “They can drive through even when the weather conditions aren’t great, so I didn’t have an excuse. It was hard at times but having that intention… it really helped push me to the top.”
Meriem was born in Morocco, into a big, busy, loud family of cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. The streets were full of light and energy, and kids played in the street until nightfall.
She was very young when her grandfather was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Her mum’s friend, Vadma, would visit and pick up medication, helping the family through the toughest days. Watching her grandfather’s pain and Vadma’s unwavering selflessness, and the effect these things had on her family, sparked something in Meriem.
“I remember telling my mum, ‘I want to be just like Vadma one day. I think some life events made me grow up a bit quickly, but I always feel like I’m a child at heart. My childhood has had a lot of ups and downs, but it’s shaped who I am today, so I’m grateful.”
When Meriem and her immediate family moved to Australia, and eventually Tasmania, the ups and downs continued. Meriem was badly bullied at school for wearing a hijiab. It got worse as she got older, and her self-esteem and mental health worsened. She despised P.E., especially running. She hated laps and came dead last in every cross-country race.
Thankfully, everything changed when Meriem moved schools.
She met an amazing group of friends, and through them, unexpected purpose. One of her new friends urged Meriem to sign up for the City to Casino fun run, an annual event that encourages participation from all levels of ability.
“I said, ‘I can’t run! I don’t know how I’ll do 7km without stopping!’”, says Meriem. “But my friend really encouraged me. She said, ‘You’ll be fine. We’ll do it together.’
“I remember being at the starting line and seeing people from all walks of life giving it a crack. I loved that. Everyone, no matter their age, their ethnicity, they were just there and having fun. I finished the 7km run without stopping, and I really shocked myself. I thought, ‘If I can prove those doubts wrong that I’ve had leading up to this race, what else can I do?’”
With each stride, there was purpose. I think that just sparked more ideas for me. I’ve continued to use my running as a platform to raise awareness for causes that are close to my heart.
A year later, at age 15, Meriem ran her first full marathon. She’d been following the civil war in Syria closely, watching tragedies unfold daily from the other side of the planet and feeling hopeless.
“I wanted to do something,” she remembers now. “I was sick of seeing innocent people die. Not many people were aware of it, especially in Australia. I decided to run my first marathon for charity.”
A full marathon, at 42.2km, was a much larger undertaking than a 7km fun run, but Meriem was determined to give it a try. It occurred to her that running could be used as a platform for raising awareness and funds for organisations such as the Al-Ihsan Foundation, who send food aid and water to countries around the world — including Syria.
“I’ll be honest,” she admits, “I was a bit hesitant. I thought, ‘What if no-one supports?’ but it was a great turnout. Everyone was very generous, and very supportive. With each stride, there was purpose. I think that just sparked more ideas for me. I’ve continued to use my running as a platform to raise awareness for causes that are close to my heart.”
Meriem didn’t just complete her first full marathon — she smashed it. She finished first in her category and shaved two and a half seconds off the previous women’s record in the process. Meriem hadn’t just found a love and talent for running — she had discovered purpose.
Since winning her first Point to Pinnacle, and in addition to running the height of Mount Everest in the span of seven days, Meriem has won the world’s hardest half-marathon two more times. She is the recipient of the 2021 Peter Norman Humanitarian Award and was named Tasmania Young Australian of the Year in 2023. She regularly represents Tasmania in national championships and is now an ambassador for the Al-Ihsan Foundation, the same charity that inspired her very first marathon.
Meriem goes back to Morocco, to the light and energy of her childhood, as often as she can. But she always returns to Tasmania, her chosen home. While working as a registered nurse, Meriem is also studying medicine at the University of Tasmania. Next, she plans to run the coastline of mainland Tasmania — an average of 50km a day for almost a month — to raise money for Al-Ihsan. Anyone could argue that today, she is certainly like Vadma. Wherever she goes, whatever she does, Meriem is on a mission to bring light and energy to the darkest of places.
“A lot of people see me wearing a scarf and say, ‘You can’t run. You can’t have a career.’ They associate me with being oppressed. That’s not real. I want to prove them wrong, and I also want to inspire other girls or women who wear the headscarf, or anyone, or everyone, to go for it.
“We’re all unique and individual in our own ways. If we change ourselves for others, that just takes away from the world. The more diversity, the more colour and spice we add to the world, the better it’s going to be.”