Toronto-based dentist wins torturous desert race


A Toronto-based Canadian Forces dentist has won a gruelling weeklong, 250 kilometre footrace across Chile’s Atacama Desert beating out more experienced runners from more than two dozen countries including several Olympians.

“Yes (Mehmet Danis) has won the race,” race spokesperson Zac Addoriso said via an email sent to the Star this morning. “He had a spectacular run.”

The Atacama Desert race which concluded today is part of a four deserts race organized by racingtheplanet and takes place in a landscape considered one of the most parched places on earth, an area characterized by scorching hot days and teeth-chattering cold nights.

Danis’s victory was sealed after he won the fifth stage of the race, considered the toughest and longest stretch, which some contest contestants took almost 26 hours to complete.

After five days, the final 10-kilometre stretch into the town of San Pedro today was a breeze.

“I just can’t believe it,” said his wife Sara Madhavi, who has been following the race in Toronto through spotty email exchanges and updates on the race website. “It’s only his second try.”

Danis, an amateur athlete, trained eight months straight for the race, running the equivalent of a weekly marathon a week and spending hours on a treadmill at an army base near Downsview Park.

It was his first foray into extreme racing. He took home first place in his age group, was the top Canadian and placed second among North American competitors. He’s running the Atacama to see if he can improve.

For Danis, the race was a mission of compassion by which he said he hoped to inspire others to step out of their comfort zones and make a difference in the lives of others.

Last year, he ran the Gobi Desert in support of the United Way of Kingston, where he and Mahdavi were living, and raised $4,000. His goal is $6,000 this year. So far he has raised $3,550.

“I’d been giving to United Way for years, ” he explained. “United Way helps people help themselves.”

Most donors simply write a cheque. That didn’t cut it for Danis, who said he wanted to go that extra mile, challenging mind, body and soul for an important cause. After conquering the Gobi, Danis said he knew he had to push himself farther.