Embarking on a desert race can be an extreme instance of coming face-to-face with yourself—the life lessons one encounters while battling these landscapes can be profound. Perhaps no one represents this concept as well as Sebastien Sasseville.
The 33-year-old was born with Type 1 Diabetes, but this hasn’t stopped him from taking on some of the world’s biggest challenges, such as summiting Mount Everest and finishing four Ironman triathlons. “Fifty years ago having diabetes was pretty much a death sentence, but today we have all the tools to live with it and still most people feel limited and they stop exercising,” says the Canadian when we sit down for an interview at the end of Stage 4. “That’s something that is really important to me: speaking to people with diabetes, and telling them anything is possible.”
Sebastien certainly has the credentials to back this claim up, and it becomes evident how dedicated he is as an athlete. While discussing the differences between an Ironman and a 4 Deserts event, he says, “I had to adapt my training, cause until now I trained with a strong Ironman focus. I only started to run a lot two months ago. Obviously I was fit; I came with a strong Ironman background. But it was very foolish to think that fitness with Ironman would just transfer to ultra running.”
“Ironman is a mix of speed and endurance,” he continues. “Whereas here it’s a mix of endurance and strength, it’s much more muscularly depending. I never trained with a pack on before. So if you want to get ready for this kind of race you have to change your training one year in advance, run longer, with a pack and you can do very well."
We’ve already seen another tremendous athlete take on the 4 Deserts with Type 1 Diabetes: Roger Hanney of Team JDFR Born to Run, which is undertaking the Grand Slam this year. So how does the disease affect Sasseville’s racing? “It’s an additional layer of challenge,” he explains. “First of all, the race is self supported, like others I have to carry my food etcetera. I don’t have specific food but I have to make sure that if I have low blood sugars, I have enough to treat them. Then there is the blood glucose management, how do you make sure your blood sugar level doesn’t go to high—because when they go too high you start getting dehydrated, and here that’s the worst thing that can happen.”
Despite these challenges, Sebastien believes that every step in a race is an opportunity to learn about himself. “Everyday there is an ‘aha’ moment when you figure out something about yourself or life, a great lesson you’ll be able to apply personally, professionally or any other level in the future. Every night, I write down a few notes.”
“To me [these races] are great self-discovery vehicles,” he concludes. “I look back at Mount Everest, I look back at other mountains and races and no matter how much it hurts; you discover so much about yourself; your strength and what you’re made of.”
By Clare Morin