Manitoban teacher raises money for people with disabilities in multi-day marathon across Sahara Desert

Dalip Shekhawat just arrived back in Manitoba after sweating it out in a race that took him hundreds of kilometres across the sweltering Sahara Desert for a good cause.

Shekhawat spent six days running in the Marathon des Sables in Morocco and raised $3,800 for St. Amant Centre, an organization in Winnipeg that helps people with disabilities where he works as a teacher.

“I survived,” said Shekhawat. “I think it’s a great accomplishment as a person and as part of the community.”

The 250-kilometre ultra-marathon is held annually in a remote and extreme environment in southern Morocco.

Runners have to be almost entirely self-sufficient: they must pack and haul all of their food, clothing, sleeping bag and other essentials for seven days, said Shekhawat. Water is supplied but limited to about six litres per day, he said.

The marathon normally takes place in late March and early April. The 35th edition of the marathon this year took place in October after multiple cancellations due to the pandemic.

There were participants from over 40 nations at the event this year, including Indian-born Shekhawat, who was the lone Canadian. Of the 672 participants only 351 finished, according to Marathon des Sables website

Dalip Shekhawat holds up the Canadian flag at the Marathon des Sables race. He was the only Canadian to compete this year. (Submitted by)

“We had a very high rate of drop out this year, because of high heat, high humidity and low wind,” Shekhawat told CBC Up to Speed host Faith Fundal. “I tried my best but this is what you can get to survive in an extreme environment.”

Shekhawat finished 200th overall. He said training in Manitoba’s heat waves this summer helped prepare him for the extreme conditions of the Sahara.

Why he would ever want to subject himself to such a physically trying event under those conditions is another story.

After battling through frigid conditions and climbing Mount Everest in 2019, Shekhawat wanted to challenge himself in an extreme environment on the other end of the spectrum.

“I chose to run the toughest footrace on Earth,” he said. “I just wanted to endure the [hottest] heat and see how I survived.”

Participants had only water supplied to them daily through the competition. They had to carry food, clothing and other essentials with them throughout. (Dalip Shekhawat)

The Marathon des Sables just wrapped a few days ago. Shekhawat was back at work at St. Amant on Wednesday, where the students and fellow teaching staff heaped on praise.

“Everybody’s complimenting me and congratulating me,” he said.

The $3,800 he raised will go toward upgrading mobility, communication and speech devices to help enhance the quality of life for the more than 2,100 people supported through St. Amant, said Shekhawat.

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