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    Sri Lanka
    Sri Lanka 14 Feb 2016
    Sahara Race Namibia 1 May 2016
    Gobi March China 19 June 2016
    Atacama Crossing Chile 2 Oct 2016
    The Last Desert Antarctica 18 - 29 Nov 2016
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RacingThePlanet record holder Jesse Yoo

RacingThePlanet record holder Jesse Yoo

Words: Melanie Ho 




With a camera in one hand and food in the other, Jesse Yoo races his eleventh RacingThePlanet event.


When Jesse Yoo (South Korea) and Kahshin Leow (Singapore) raced together during The Last Desert (Antarctica) 2008, Leow learned not to ask questions about the snacks Yoo kept offering.  Seemingly, like a never-ending tuck shop, Yoo forever offered to share his food.


Leow still doesn’t exactly know what he was eating. 


“I have no idea what it was, but it tasted good,” Leow said.  “I recognise the seaweed but then there was this other mushy candy stuff.  It doesn’t really matter, when you’re hungry everything tastes good.”


The happy camper spirit has taken Yoo far.  RacingThePlanet: Namibia 2009, which begins Sunday with a 39 km stage through the Fish River Canyon, is Yoo’s 11th RacingThePlanet event.  Yoo has raced the Gobi March (China) four times, the Atacama Crossing (Chile) once, The Last Desert (Antarctica) twice, the Sahara Race (Egypt) twice, RacingThePlanet: Vietnam 2008 and this year’s roving race, RacingThePlanet: Namibia 2009.  He has completed the most RacingThePlanet events out of any competitor and is the only one to have completed The Last Desert event twice. 


Yoo describes his affinity for desert as more a desire to travel the world than place first in a race. 


”I like the desert,” Yoo said.  “I like meeting new people and I want to see more than Korea.  The world is very wide, I want to go everywhere.”


Yoo said he is more a tourist, than a competitor and modestly calls himself an observer rather than a runner.  Unlike those whose focus is purely on the race, Yoo does not deny himself the opportunity to take a photo, have a snack or even take a nap.


“This isn’t my country,” Yoo said.  “I want to take it all in, memorise everything.”


Norma Bastidas (Canada) ran with Yoo during the Sahara Race (Egypt) 2008.  As tentmates, Bastidas said Yoo was the one who could communicate with everyone as he spoke the most languages.  He was also the entertainer of the tent, cracking jokes and keeping the mood light. 


“He’s fit enough to be more competitive, but he comes for the experience more than the race,” Bastidas said.  “I’m amazed he can carry so much food, it will be Day 5 and it’s like he has food coming out of his sleeve.”


Yoo said his food habits have changed over the years.  Before he brought solely Korean staples, but he has since branched out to include food from Japan, Hong Kong and the United States.  But like most people, he reverts to down-home comfort when tired.


“When I’m tired it’s noodles, when I’m not than everything else,” Yoo said. 

Naturally, Yoo has learned a few tricks along the way, namely understanding that the word “desert” doesn’t necessarily mean the Sahara Desert.  During his first RacingThePlanet event, Yoo made that crucial error.


“I just was so under-prepared,” Yoo said.  “During my first race in the Gobi, I thought because it was a desert, it would be exactly like the Sahara.  I was so cold.  I didn’t think the desert could be cold.”


Despite his rookie mishap, Yoo still prefers the Gobi March.  In part it’s because of the event’s proximity to Seoul, but of course there’s a sentimental notion and the fact that Yoo just doesn’t like to stay still. 


“Each time I raced in the Gobi in 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2007, the course was new, everything was different and I can remember something different about each race,” Yoo said. 

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