Last month, Katie Spotz, a world-record holder for the youngest solo ocean rower, visited Mzomtsha School near East London, South Africa. Mzomtsha School is one of more than 70 schools supported by H2O for Life, an organization that provides a service-learning opportunity for schools, youth groups, and faith-based organizations to raise awareness about the water crisis while taking action to provide funds for water, sanitation and hygiene education for a partner school in a developing country. In partnership with H2O for Life, The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation is working to improve access to sustainable safe water and sanitation in schools across South Africa through the Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN). RAIN will improve sustainable safe water access to 6 million Africans by the end of 2020.

Katie is an elite athlete whose long list of accomplishments includes an Ironman triathlon, an ultramarathon in Australia, cycling across the country, a 325-mile river swim, running across deserts, cycling in the Tour of New Zealand, and a solo row across the Atlantic Ocean. As an adventurous athlete, she decided to not just keep making history by setting world records, but by raising money and awareness for safe drinking water projects around the world. Through her efforts, Katie became an ambassador for H2O for Life. In 2015, she spread the word of the water crisis to 61,370 students in the United States, encouraging them to take action themselves.

Katie’s visit to Mzomtsha provided her the opportunity to see the full impact of her fundraising, which she raised during her IRONMAN triathlon in 2015. H2O for Life and RAIN leveraged Katie’s funding to construct rainwater harvesting systems, improve toilets and plant gardens at the school that help supplement the nutritional needs for 200 students. During the visit, Katie met Mzomtsha’s principal, Ms. Kholosa, to tour the school and grounds and learn more about the challenges students faced before the project, ranging from dangers of having to walk long distances to go to the bathroom in the brush behind the school to the interruption of students having to collect water from a pump far beyond the school grounds. Ms. Kholosa noted that since the project’s completion, student attendance and academic performance has greatly improved.

"As an ultra-endurance athlete, I understand the importance of water. It's easy to understand how important water is for health and the environment, but what amazes me is the impact it can and does have on education,” Katie said. “Clean water means that kids can get an education and stay in school instead of spending time collecting water. I am excited to be able to share the impact made through the funds raised for the water project. It truly makes a difference."

This project is just one of many examples of how water and sanitation access is vital for creating healthy learning environments that allow children to thrive and grow into productive, healthy and empowered adults. Through Katie’s tireless efforts, she is supporting the growth of many more potential ultra-athletes.