Mauro Prosperi – the man who refused to die
A few nights ago, I watched on tv an episode of National Geographic’s Expeditions to the Edge, titled “Sahara Nightmare”.
This was about Mauro Prosperi, a Sicilian police officer and Olympics pentathlon gold medallist, who entered the 1994 Marathon des Sables (Marathon of the Sands), in Morocco. This is a 6-day, 233 km event in the Sahara Desert - running more than five marathons in a single week, in 120-degree heat – and is considered to be one of the toughest tests of physical endurance.
On the third day of the race, Mauro got lost, becoming disoriented after a fierce sandstorm. He kept running, but deeper and deeper in the wrong direction. After his day’s stock of water and food ran out, and he was not found by the organisers, or spotted by a search helicopter that passed by overhead, Mauro cut his wrists with his penknife and lay down to die, rather than suffer a long, slow, painful death.
But his dehydrated condition caused his blood to thicken and clot the wound. So he woke up again the next morning. Now he decided he would survive, anyhow, and be reunited with his family.
When his water ran out, he collected his own urine to drink when he had to. He ate – raw – bats and snakes and lizards. And he kept running.
After 9 days in the desert – and having entered unwittingly into Algeria - Mauro Prosperi was found by a nomadic family and taken to an Algerian military camp and then to a hospital. He was 186 miles off-route, had lost 30 pounds and was on the verge of liver failure.
Four years later, Mauro was back at the Marathon des Sables. "It was a very bad and terrible experience," he said, "And yet it was a great one."
"I am a competitor," he explained, "and I love the desert."
Having been a keen long-distance runner in my youth, grown up in awe of legendary names like Paavo Nurmi and Abebe Bikila, and loved the books / films Loneliness of a Long Distance Runner and Marathon Man - Mauro Prosperi is one man I would truly love to meet, and pay homage to!