Ray Zahab learns about appreciation and gratitude after spending three months in the desert and exploring the world with his feet on the ground.
In early 2007, Charlie, Kevin and I were over halfway across Africa on our 7,500K run across the Sahara Desert. We had already been through so many communities along the way and were learning not only about the amazing culture and people of North Africa, but we were also getting a visual of the seriousness of the water crisis going on in this region of the continent. While running through these remote towns, we visited with community leaders.
We were there to run. But more importantly, we were there to learn. We spent many days with Tuareg people, learning about the connection of water to life.
It was incredible learning how important, how vital, clean water is to the fabric of any sustainable society. The foundation of the community and its people is pride, and from water comes the capability for not only survival, but independence and the capacity to thrive. Local economies desperately relied on potable water to remain buoyant. From livestock to basic crops, clean water is needed.
We were getting an education as we ran through the Sahara not only about water, but about the ready access we had at home in comparison. We take so much for granted. We simply turn our taps on at home and voila—water appears! Not so in the arid Saharan vastness. Every drop is precious, and accounted for. Wells are the lifeblood, and when the wells run dry, so does the community. Our 111-day journey had many lessons, but three stand out in particular:
Through running I was able to learn about a culture, and a situation, that’s important and that I was previously oblivious about. We’re all capable of doing extraordinary things and are able to exceed limits we sometimes build around ourselves. With running, we can have a voice, or a message, and we can affect positive change! You just have to make the choice.
When I returned from the Sahara I knew I wanted to get involved with water initiatives and use my running to contribute. As a proud Canadian, I joined the board of a homegrown water charity called the Ryan’s Well Foundation and volunteered. I also joined Run for Water and helped organize an annual fundraiser called the Run for Water Ultra, which is a fundraising effort for water projects in Africa.
Still, I knew I wanted to engage with young people and find a way to create free running adventures for youth and model them on the “Running the Sahara” experience of learning about yourself and learning through adventure. That’s when impossible2Possible was born!
Since the Sahara, I’ve done multiple expeditions all over the world, all in support of impossible2Possible or i2P. It’s what inspires me and drives me to keep going. I love the challenge of making it to the South Pole or running 2,000K across the Gobi, but at the end of the day, it’s truly about supporting my passion for i2P.
Making a difference through your running doesn’t necessarily mean being able to raise tons of money. Raising awareness for a cause you are passionate about is just as valuable. Volunteering your time is another great way to help out! You’re a runner. Use your passion for good.
Volunteering your time is another great way to help out. Races from Vancouver to Montreal now feature valuable charity components and everyone benefits (including the runner) when runners chip in. Investigate. What stokes your passion? You’re a runner. Use your passion for good.
Ray Zahab is the founder of Impossible2Possible, which educates youth through adventure training. An ultra marathoner, public speaker and author of Running for My Life, Zahab is an iRun contributor. His website is RayZahab.com.