Imagine taking on a 250-kilometer, self-supported 4 Deserts event with Type 1 diabetes. Now, imagine taking on the Grand Slam - four events in a calendar year.
Welcome to the world of Roger Hanney, a 37-year-old Australian and Type 1 diabetic who is embarking on this year’s 4 Deserts Grand Slam with his team JDRF Born To Run.
The five Aussies who make up this team are getting ready for a remarkable journey. They hit the Atacama Crossing in March. Then, they’ll be powering through the next three desert races of the year, with a second stab at the Atacama Crossing in 2013 and finishing with an ultramarathon in The Simpson Desert in May 2013. If they succeed in this mammoth task, they will break five 4 Deserts records (ranging from youngest competitor to first couple to complete the 4 Deserts Grand Slam), all in the name of raising money and awareness of Type 1 diabetes.
“It was my crazy idea,” explains Greg Donovan, a 50-year-old Australian and the galvanizing force behind the team. Donovan’s 21-year-old son, Matthew, is also part of the team. Diabetes has hit their family - one of Donovan’s other sons and nephew both has the condition.
“This is why I and my other son are running,” he continues. “We are running because we want to raise awareness and help find a cure for this disease. Type 1 diabetes is in your genes, and we want to make sure a cure is found to assist future generations of our family.”
In his bid to raise awareness - matched with a serious love for endurance events - Donovan reached out to fellow Sydney residents Roger Hanney and Jess Baker. The couple are both established athletes; Baker recently set a new woman's record in Australia’s tough trail race, the 174-kilometer Great North Trail Walk. Donovan then brought in the fifth and final member, 60-year-old Ron Schwebel, who recently ran the 243-kilometer Coast to Kosciusko in just over 39 hours.
With such a compelling story starting to form - five fairly normal people of all ages and backgrounds taking on an astonishing challenge - a television crew soon joined the ranks. The cameras will be following the team into the desert starting at the Gobi March and will produce a television series. Meanwhile, the money being raised along the route will be benefiting the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) in each country they head to, in addition to funding research.
Beyond the sheer scale of the mission at hand, what makes this team’s feat all the more impressive is that team member Roger Hanney is a living example of what Type 1 diabetics have to deal with on a daily basis. So how does he manage it out on a race?
“I pay more attention to my physical signs - thirst, clarity, energy levels - than most runners,” he explains. “I'll check trends with my glucose meter and run my Animas insulin pump conservatively, as it is easier to pull high sugars down than run through lows.”
He says that despite all the difficulties the condition brings, it has also given him an edge, something to push beyond. “There are ways in which I'm grateful, because my passion for ultra running was initially rooted in a defiance of genetic chance,” he muses.
“Since then, my deepest moments of joy, my lover and closest friends, richest memories, a maelstrom of natural awesome experiences in Australia and overseas, a great job with Hoka OneOne Australia and this fantastic desert adventure all stem from a twist of DNA fate… I'd say yes to a fully functioning pancreas in a heartbeat and hopefully one day that's an option,” he adds. “But with the right understanding, preparation, and attitude, Type 1 diabetes is as good a reason as any to reject limitations.”
By Clare Morin