The best role models have a contagious energy; when we come into contact with them, we begin to transform. Such is the case with Americans Patricia Vehmeyer and Sharon Flanders, a pair of sisters taking on the Atacama Crossing in March 2012. A couple of years ago, neither sister imagined they would be taking on such a challenging event.
It all began in 2009 when Florida-based Patricia picked up a newspaper and read about 4 Deserts competitor Linda Quirk. The inspirational athlete, who had previously run seven marathons on seven continents, was embarking on a 4 Deserts event in a bid to raise money for drug and alcohol addiction treatment centers.
Patricia picked up the phone and immediately rang the newspaper: “I wanted to help Linda raise money because it’s a cause that hits very close to home,” she explains. At the time, Patricia was dealing with her own son’s addiction. “When I realized that my son, my only child, was battling addiction, it crushed my world,” she confides. “I blamed myself and sank into depression. I did not know how to deal with my son’s addiction and I was terrified I would lose him. During that time, I gained a lot of weight and I became very unhealthy.”
Patricia met up with Linda for a coffee and offered to help the athlete raise money. “Instead, [Linda] recruited me to run the Sahara Desert 2010 with her,” says Patricia. “I thought she was crazy… I was overweight and could not run a block, never mind 150 miles through a desert. I thought she was kidding, but she was serious.”
In that moment, Patricia’s life started to transform. She walked away from the meeting with a renewed energy and, in April 2010, finished her first marathon in Boston. Six months later, “I had lost 60 pounds and had completed numerous 5-, 10- and 15-kilometer races.” Patricia was no longer required to take medication for high blood pressure and described a new lust for life. “Linda’s courage and strength inspired me more than she will ever know,” she says. “She inspired me to push myself and not give up.”
When the time came, in October 2010, for Patricia to set out across the Sahara Desert, she discovered that she was not as scared as she expected to be. “It was just the opposite. It was so peaceful out in the desert.” Patricia had three great days, but at the third checkpoint on Stage 3 she pulled out of the event due to blisters that became infected. After the initial disappointment, Patricia soon picked herself up. “I learned so much about myself. I learned I am a lot stronger than I ever thought I was. I decided on my flight home that I would revisit a 4 Deserts event.”
Patricia is now preparing for the Atacama Crossing 2012 and is finding that this time she’s become the role model. “I thought I was setting an example for my son and found out I was also setting an example for my sister,” she explains.
Sharon Flanders had seen how her sister’s 4 Deserts training had turned her life around and so she decided to join her at the Atacama Crossing 2012. “I admired her strength and perseverance,” explains Sharon from her home in Boston. “Patricia has been through some hard times… she never gave up and kept pressing on. If she can do it, I can too. We can do it together!” Sharon emphasizes, “It’s never too late to make positive changes in your life.”
Both sisters look forward to tackling the challenge in the Atacama Desert together, believing they will have a lot of helpful support in one another. They’ve also inspired a large group of family and friends that plan to watch and encourage them from back home. “Our family thinks it’s wonderful that we are doing this together and for the same cause,” says Patricia. “We will have a lot of people cheering us on from the United States. I think the sisters are going to rock the desert!”
by Clare Morin