David Samson’s first call with the idea was to his best friend since seventh grade, who does something athletic each year to defy his Parkinson’s disease. The friend, Bret Parker, had the proper reaction.
“He hung up on me,’’ Samson, the former Marlins president, said.
His second call was to former Marlins outfielder Jeff Conine.
“I’ve got an idea — don’t say, ‘no’ right away,’’ Samson said.
The idea: Run seven marathons on seven continents in seven consecutive days. Start in the snow of Antarctica. End by the sand in Miami. Run 184 miles around the world in 156 hours. And raise $2 million for charity.
“He presented this whole madness to me,’’ Conine said. “I said I was in, but I was on vacation, and it was 2 ½ years away. I figured there might be less than 50 percent a chance of it coming to fruition.”
He chuckles. “Here we are now and it’s a week away.”
Next Tuesday, the 16-member team named “Hold The Plane” start the World Marathon Challenge in expected 20-degree weather at a Russian air base called Novolazarevskay on an Antarctica island.
“That’s always the first question,’’ said Samson, 49.
Why try this? Why punish your body? Why follow ridiculously long runs with ridiculously long flights followed by more ridiculously long runs? Why suffer the blisters, the cramps, the unseen soreness and sleep deprivation since they can’t sleep more than an hour on flights without walking for concern of blood clots?
Why all this?
“Why not?” asked Conine, 51.
This, to them, is a full life led. It’s an event unconstrained by convention. And these 16 team members are a mix of unorthodox stories that includes: Samson, Conine, Marlins president Mike Hill and equipment manager John Silverman, Iowa dentist Deb Carneol, former Playboy cover girl Mikayla Wingle, Boston Marathon race director Dave McGillivray, one-legged Paralympic triathlete Sarah Reinertsen, middle-school social-studies teacher Cara Nelson, who uses the event as a lesson plan for her students in the Hamptons, N.Y., and Parker, Samson’s best friend, who called back after a couple days and said, “I’m in.”
Parker had one semi-joking concern. Eight hours after the start of each marathon the Russian cargo jet charter takes off for the next stop. Would he make it? Samson told him not to worry, “We’ll hold the plane.” Hence the team name.
There are 56 people in all paying $44,000 each to run the annual World Marathon Challenge and be flown and fed on the marathon route from Antarctica to: Cape Town, South Africa; Perth, Australia; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Lisbon, Portugal; Cartagena, Colombia and Miami.
Samson thinks Lisbon, the fifth leg, could be the toughest, because, “You’ve run four already and the end isn’t in sight.” he said.
Conine wonders about Cartagena. “The weather there could be like Miami in the summer,’’ he said.
Team Hold The Plane’s expenses were picked up by an anonymous donor. So all outside donations made (777Marathon.com) go to the 11 charities the runners have selected. One donor gave $100,000 with the promise of $200,000 if Samson is hospitalized and $300,000 if he dies.
“Anything for the kids,’’ said Samson, who learned a lot about disgruntled fans over his years with the Marlins.
Planning is key. Gear for each site is in zip-top plastic bags. Samson has four pairs of running shoes. Training started in January (though Conine started in June for less wear on his non-runner’s body).
They had a peak of a 73-mile running week. They met for various runs — a marathon in Orlando, four days of distance running in Miami and cold-weather training in New York.
“It’s more a mental challenge than anything,’’ Conine said. “I think the cumulative effect of sleep deprivation, muscle soreness and blistering and your typical overuse problems are concerns. You do one marathon and, big deal, your toes hurt the next day.
“But if your toes hurt or you have a blister, you have to get back in the saddle and do it again here. And then again. And that’s where the mental challenge comes in.”
Conine and Reinertsen are elite athletes. But they’ve never done anything like this. Only 59 people have completed this event since it began in 2015. Samson saw a story about it and knew after the first paragraph he wanted to do it. He’s run a marathon, double-marathon and an Ironman in Hawaii.
“I’ve never been able to dunk a basketball or throw a ball 90 mph,’’ he said. “I do things anyone can do if they have the will to do it.”
Will they finish? They don’t know. That’s part of the lure. The finish line of the seventh marathon on the seventh continent in seven days is comforting, though. Not just because it’s the end. It’s also by a hospital on Miami Beach.