One of the hallmarks of The Last Desert is its intimate size; with just 49 competitors, the M/V Plancius is buzzing with a wonderful mix of ages, backgrounds and life stories. Beyond the big goals of the Grand Slammers, there are also those who are here after many years of quiet, consistent effort.
We call them the 4 Deserts Veterans, and they are an inspiring group to talk to. Take Istanbul’s Taner Damci: “It feels just great to be back, I missed RacingThePlanet,” enthuses the 48-year-old. Damci competed in the first Atacama Crossing in 2004 then took on the Gobi March the following year where the sizzling heat almost wiped him out. “In the long stage I decided to quit when suddenly Sam [Fanshawe] came by and motivated me to carry on. Then I managed to finish.”
As is often the case with people juggling racing dreams with careers, life then got in the way. Damci is a practicing physician with the Istanbul University Cerrahpasa Medical School and his intense schedule made it difficult for him to commit to a race. “I couldn’t find time to train because I work as a practicing physician,” he explains. “I took leave from the university in order to train in the mornings.”
It has taken eight years to return and perhaps the wait has only made it all the sweeter to be back. Damci has been celebrating his return with another great 4 Deserts racer, fellow Istanbul-based Alper Dalkilic. The two friends completed the first two stages together, savoring every moment in this immaculate landscape.
For Irish competitor William Coffey (aka Billy), it wasn’t so much life getting in the way as life offering a rich array of other challenges. After competing in the Gobi March and Sahara Race (2005) and the Atacama Crossing 2006, “I went off to do a few other races, running races mainly in Europe,” he explains.
The idea was always to make it to Antarctica and, somehow, just keeping that intention has allowed all the right conditions to finally form. “The time was right,” he says of this year. “My friend owns a business and has sponsored me for this race. I am running for the Irish Motor Neuron Disease.”
Coffey has been careful to embark on a structured training regimen—training at 35 miles per week and building up to 70 miles per day–and it appears to have paid off. The 47-year-old made steady progress on Stages 1 and 2 with an ever-smiling and positive quality. “I have been injured for two months so yesterday was certainly a challenge, but I am having a great time,” he assures us. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
The experiences of these 4 Deserts veterans makes us think of the great Chinese philosopher, Lao-Tsu and his time-honored advice: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Just keep going, keep the intention, and it's possible to arrive in truly extraordinary places.
By Clare Morin