By Sam Healey
There is a reason TIME magazine named the 4 Deserts as the second most arduous endurance competition in the world in its Top Ten, just behind the iconic Dakar Rally.
The physical toll taken on the body during just one of RacingThePlanet’s 250km, multi-day, rough-country footraces is enough to make most competitors attempt only one event per year, so the emergence of those who decide to complete all four of these desert races in one season elicits great admiration, as well as a measure of disbelief.
The statistics are compelling. Of the 1644 competitors who have started a 4 Deserts race, 85% have finished, an impressive 45% have taken part in more than one race, but only two have ever managed the ultimate feat of completing the 4 Deserts Grand Slam.
Those two competitors who both succeeded in 2008 are ultrarunning legend Dean Karnazes of the USA, and Paul Liebenberg, a flying doctor from South Africa. In 2010, four competitors have so far thrown down the gauntlet and committed to the four races that complete the series: the Atacama Crossing in Chile, the Gobi March in China, the Sahara Race in Egypt and The Last Desert in Antarctica.
In fact one of the group, Diego Carvajal, a 26 year old company director from the United Kingdom is attempting all six RacingThePlanet events this year, adding both RacingThePlanet: Australia 2010, the annual roving race, and the Taklamakan Ultramarathon, the inaugural RacingThePlanet 100 event, to his already busy schedule.
Carvajal is the least experienced and youngest member of the group having never entered an endurance event before. When searching for the ultimate physical test he explains, “Once I had decided that ultramarathons would present me with the greatest challenge, I pretty much knew straight away that it was all or nothing”, and thus his decision to attempt the 4 Deserts Grand Slam was made.
He continues, “I have this blind faith and self-belief that have been instilled in me since I was about 10 years old and was diagnosed with Hodgkins Disease. When I was officially given the remission news, it also came with a warning about how the chemotherapy would likely affect my ability to partake in sports and really push myself to the limits. Since that time, I have fought to ensure that I prove the signs wrong”.
Carvajal will be raising money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society UK during his campaign, a disease that affects not only his partner’s father and her sister-in-law, but also his best friend’s sister.
Joining Diego are two fellow Britons, Tremaine Kent and Paul Acheson. Like Diego, Kent and Paul have also had to deal with the tragedy of serious illness in their lives.
Tremaine Kent, a 40 year-old international security consultant from South East England, is undertaking the 4 Deserts in memory of his wife, to raise funds for a new Palliative Care Centre being built in Great Yarmouth.
Having served for many years in British Special Forces, with the disrupted family life that a military career entails, his wife Carla was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer within weeks of him finally retiring in 2008. Carla passed away in July 2009 at the age of 33, leaving Tremaine as the single parent of son Kyle, 12, and daughter Star, 10.
Says Tremaine, “When Carla passed I had a revelation: we had spent our whole lives working towards a goal that she never made it to. Life is for living and giving, this is what can bring internal peace and happiness.”
When considering what he could do to help others, Kent’s only thought was to run. He continues, “Myself and a close friend sat up on the Internet all night and found the 4 Deserts. It was through Dean Kanasas endeavours that I became drawn to the challenge.”
Tremaine is not alone in being inspired by Karnazes, both Paul Acheson and the first women to attempt the full series in one year, American Linda Quirk, also discovered the 4 Deserts after reading about Dean’s experiences in 2008.
In 2009, the 56 year-old grandmother from Florida successfully completed her 7on7 challenge, a mission to run seven marathons on seven continents within a year. She set out to raise US$1million for the Caron Treatment Centres who had successfully helped her stepdaughter overcome addiction.
Says Linda, “I wanted to help other families who went through the exact same thing we did. Then I learned how taboo the subject of addiction seemed to be. I decided to not only raise funds, but to help tear down the stigma and to get people talking about the disease.”
Her reasons to try and become the first woman to complete the Grand Slam are manifold, and include continuing to work on changing the perception of addiction and to reach her fundraising goal. She goes on to explain, “Lastly, it’s for my own personal fulfillment, and to show by example that anything is possible when we believe in ourselves. My motto has always been: if you can see it, you can do it. If you believe it, it will happen, so dream big!“
Dreaming big could certainly describe Paul Acheson’s approach to the 4 Deserts Grand Slam. The 33 year-old travel consultant from the UK, started running seven years ago after losing his mother to lung cancer. He is a veteran of several Ironman triathlons, but it was the combination of completing the Jungle Marathon in 2008 and reading about Dean Karnazes 4 Deserts campaign that really piqued his interest in rough-country endurance events. When asked when he decided to attempt the Grand Slam his immediate answer is “Straight away! One race is a challenge; four is the ultimate challenge. Four different countries and four amazing races in one year, what could be better?”
Paul, who will be supporting Save The Children in 2010, goes on to explain his reasons for competing, “Why have one experience of a lifetime when you can have four? Running, traveling to new countries, meeting some of the most inspirational people in the world all whilst raising money for charity, nothing could be better!”
Founder and CEO of RacingThePlanet Mary Gadams says, “This year, four very different people will find themselves brought together to attempt the 4 Deserts Grand Slam. Without knowing each other, they already have a common bond forged of living through adversity and learning to grab hold of life and bend it to their own will. It’s that common mind-set and the shared experience of our races that brings competitors together to help each other travel beyond their athletic frontiers. A huge test of physical endurance and mental tenacity awaits these four in the desert, and that test begins in just seven weeks time. We wish them the best of luck with their campaigns.”