There’s a video of Ray Zahab that speaks volumes about how he views the world. In it, the adventurer and distance runner from Chelsea, Que., is making his way across the Mongolian grasslands when a local man begins running alongside him to show his support. “We can’t speak to each other, but we’re running and having a great time, sharing a laugh,” says a barely-out-ofbreath Zahab. “Running is such a great communication tool.”
That belief — that adventure can bind people together and bring about positive change in the world through education — is central to the philosophy of Zahab’s non-profit organization, impossible2Possible. It’s also the inspiration behind his latest long-distance challenge: running more than 2,000 kilometres across Mongolia’s Gobi Desert (pictured above) to learn and share information about the nomads who live there and their environment. He completed the run in July, but not without losing layers of facial skin from the constant, driving winds and heat.
Zahab is no newcomer to long-distance running in extreme environments. In 2006-2007, he ran 7,500 kilometres across the Sahara Desert to raise awareness for clean-water initiatives in Africa. In 2009, he was part of a team that broke a world speed record for the fastest unsupported expedition to the South Pole (33 days, 23 hours, 55 minutes), highlighting threats to the region along the way. And in 2011, he ran 1,200 kilometres across Chile’s Atacama Desert, somehow finding the time and energy to share what he learned about biodiversity there with students from around the world.
But as compelling as the telegenic athlete’s adventures in exotic locales are, it’s his obvious enthusiasm and interest in the lands he passes through and the people he meets along the way that truly inspires. If that doesn’t make him a geography superstar, then nothing does.