In a world where every step counts, 36-year-old Robbie Gien, a sales team leader at Pnet, an online recruitment platform, from Johannesburg,  is about to make each one truly significant. As an Ironman athlete since 2013, and a running enthusiast, Robbie is no stranger to pushing his limits. This year, he’s pushing them even further for a cause close to his heart—Swallow’s Nest.


Pictured above: Robbie Gien

‘I chose to raise funds for Swallow’s Nest because I love the work that they do to assist babies in getting through their hard start to life which was not their fault, usually due to negligent or unfortunate circumstances that their biological parents have been dealt in life.’ says Robbie


Swallow’s Nest: A Safe Haven for Vulnerable Children

Swallow’s Nest based in Queenswood, Pretoria, is not just a home; it’s a sanctuary for abandoned, abused, neglected, and special-needs children. Founded and lovingly maintained by 55-year-old Jeanette Birrell from Machadodorp, Mphumalanga since 2001, Swallow’s Nest provides temporary care until these children can be matched with adoptive families, reunited with their biological families, or placed into foster care. Over the past 21 years, Jeanette has cared for 208 babies, offering them a safe and nurturing environment during their most vulnerable moments. As a founding member of the Tshwane Place of Safety Association, which was founded in September 2003, Jeanette’s vision of giving each crisis child love and care in a private home has created a profound impact on countless lives.


Pictured above: Swallow’s Nest founder, Jeanette Birrell with a baby from the sanctuary

‘The roughest roads often lead to the most breathtaking views. Don’t be discouraged by a tough start; it’s just the beginning of your story.” This is for the babies in the care of Swallow’s Nest.’ explains Robbie


Preparation: The 2024 Comrades Marathon

Robbie’s journey to the Backyard Ultra began with another formidable race—the 2024 Comrades Marathon. Scheduled for June 9, the 85.9km up-run served as a preparation ground for Robbie, helping him build the endurance and mental fortitude required for the Backyard Ultra.


The Challenge: Backyard Ultra

On July 20, 2024, at Van Gaalens in Hartbeespoort in the North West Province, Robbie will take on one of the most gruelling challenges in the ultra-running world—the Backyard Ultra. This unique race format requires competitors to run a 6.7km lap every hour. Each lap must be completed within the hour, and whatever time remains is used for recovery before starting the next lap. The race continues until only one runner remains who can complete a lap.


Pictured above: Robbie proudly hold up his IronMan medal

‘Ultra running sends your mind into deep areas of negativity, hardship and despair. It’s easy for your mind to give up but when I think of the difference that I can make by using this marathon to help a child get a kickstart to a great future, it fuels me to drive on. The babies and children at Swallow’s Nest have not asked or done anything wrong to have this sort of hardship fall on their shoulders but they already show more resilience than most adults and I find that incredibly inspiring.’ Robbie tells us.


Running for Swallow’s Nest

With the children of Swallow’s Nest as his motivation, Robbie is determined to surpass his previous record of 11 laps by aiming to complete a minimum of 15 laps, covering over 100km. This incredible feat is not just a physical challenge but a mental one, as Robbie will continuously remind himself to push through with the mantra “Just One More Lap.”

‘The less I must stress about where the funding for the everyday needs come from, the more time I can spend with the babies and toddlers in my care.  I can focus on their development and other concerns. Seeing that most of the babies I take of are premature or drug addicted, this takes a lot of time and care!’ says Jeanette


Pictured above: A caretaker at Swallow’s Nest with some of the babies from the sanctuary


Supporting Swallow’s Nest

Robbie’s participation in the Backyard Ultra is more than a personal achievement; it’s a fundraising mission which he has started through a crowdfunding campaign on BackaBuddy where he has already managed to raise over R22 000 with the help of 24 amazing donors. All funds raised through his race will be directly donated to Swallow’s Nest, ensuring that Jeanette can continue her invaluable work of providing a loving and secure environment for children in need.

‘The funds will provide the babies and toddlers in Jeanette’s home with milk formula, disposable nappies, toiletries, medication, food, nursery school fees and other general needs for the crisis children. Every donation counts. It may be such a cliché phrase, however the truth is that none of the babies had a choice to be in this situation and I believe it is our responsibility to assist where we can to give all the babies no matter their background, the best foot forward in life.’ explains Robbie


Support Robbie’s campaign here: