The finish line on Saturday felt a bit like the United Nations — with many national flags jostling for space. A total of 38 countries were represented at this year’s Sahara Race. While there were huge contingencies from the likes of South Korea and Japan, there were also several individuals who bore their entire nations on their shoulders.
Take, for example, competitor Mauricio Cohen who lives in Mexico City and works in management for Carnaval de Mexico. How did he become the sole Mexican in the field here in Egypt? “I read in a newspaper about a Mexican woman called Nahila Hernández San Juan who had taken part in one of the races,” he tells us. “Then I decided to enter.”
Mauricio explains that while ultramarathons are not particularly popular in Mexico, there is great interest in hearing stories about the people who do them. So far, Mauricio says that the race is turning out to not only be a physical feat but something much greater: “I’m feeling fine, I’m quietly learning how to do this. You know, this is a physical, mental and spiritual experience!”
From nearby Guatemala, Ramiro Alfaro has also become used to flying his country’s flag with his own two hands. He explains that his 4 Deserts message came in to him while finishing the New York City Marathon, which has been canceled this year due to the devastating impact of Hurricane Sandy.
“I found an advertisement of a marathon in the Sahara, then I threw it away. Later, when I became interested in the idea, I looked on the Internet for the ‘Sahara Race’ and I found the 4 Deserts Series and applied for the Gobi March.”
He points out that while his family and friends initially thought he was nuts for taking on such a challenge, as the races have progressed and they have followed him in the blogs and features online. “They began to understand the mental and spiritual side of this kind of experience.”
Perhaps the coolest occupation we came across as we spoke to these lesser-represented countries was Jovica Spajic of Serbia. Jovica told us, “I’m from Serbia, I represent Serbia, the Balkans my people, my family. I am a member of the Serbian Anti-Terrorist Unit.”
It was the Internet that once again provided the window for this adventurous soul. “I wanted to know about racing long distance events, I checked on the Internet and the 4 Deserts appeared. I looked at it and pretty immediately subscribed.”
He says that coming to the race has been one of the best decisions of his life. “I feel great, like every day is a blessing. First the challenge is incredible, this is the top for me; it will remain one of the biggest achievements for me.”
Jovica also points out that in the desert all concepts of division come down between humans. Deep friendships and bonds are formed, and it becomes meaningless where one comes from, as everyone competes on the same level playing field. “This is not just a race, it’s also about friendship,” he concludes. “This is something different, this is bigger than just running. This is a unique moment and I hope I will do it again.”
By Clare Morin