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Home » Film

Ray Zahab: Running with reason

Submitted by on January 21, 2010 – 12:07 amNo Comment
Zahab (right) Running the Sahara

Preventable water-related diseases kill nearly 14,000 people a day. 2.6 billion men, women and children have limited access to basic sanitation. 1.1 billion lack access to clean water. One shower is the equivalent of two days drinking water for many families. Someone dies every 15 seconds because they do not have fresh water to drink.

In November 2006, Ray Zahab ran across the Sahara Desert. He ran 40-50 miles a day for 111 days straight, through 74,000 kilometers of what is rightly regarded as some of the most gruelling terrain on earth. He ran for 10, 12, at times 15 hours a day, sometimes through 45-degree heat. And he completed the final 300 km in just 60 hours.

Zahab ran clear across Mali, Lybia, Niger and Mauritania before reaching the Red Sea in Egypt, nearly four months after leaving from Senegal. He ran 4,300 miles across six countries. That’s like running back and forth from Toronto to Florida three times.

The Sahara Challenge was run in partnership with H20 Africa, an organization that helps to reshape the plight of people who lack access to basic necessities. Co-founded by Matt Damon, H2O Africa is creating widespread public awareness of the water crisis in Africa and gathering support for clean water programs in critical areas.

In partnership with H2O, Zahab and Academy Award winners Damon and James Moll created Running the Sahara. Directed by Moll and produced and narrated by Damon, the documentary followed Zahab through the Sahara to raise awareness of the fact that someone dies every 15 seconds because they do not have fresh water to drink.


Between 300 and 500 million people get malaria each year. Almost 2 million people who contract it  die from the preventable disease. Malaria kills nearly 3,000 African children a day. Countries in sub-Saharan Africa suffer from nearly 90 per cent of all malaria fatalities. Malaria kills a child every 30 seconds.

In August 2007, Ray Zahab created the Canada Challenge. He ran 56 miles a day for nine straight days, through 400 killometers of the most treacherous trails on the east, west and north coasts of the country. He ran for 12 hours a day, at times through knee- deep bogs, sometimes heeding polar bear and cougar warning signs.

Zahab ran across the Akshayuk Pass in the Northwest Territories, the East Coast Trail in Newfoundland and the West Coast Trail in southern Vancouver Island. The trails tally 250 miles. That’s like running half the distance from Calgary to Vancouver.

The Canada Challenge was run in partnership with Spread The Net, a charity founded by Liberal MP Belinds Stronach and comedian Rick Mercer, that raises money to buy bed nets for Africans susceptible to malaria. Every $10 raised through Spread The Net buys one bed net, which has been shown to reduce malaria transmission by at least 50 per cent.

Spread The Net is aiming to purchase 500,000 bed nets. So far, they have bought 127, 200. Alongside Mercer, Stronach, and former NHL player Tie Domi, among others, Zahab has become one of the leading voices highlighting the fact that malaria kills a child every 30 seconds.


171 million children work in hazardous conditions. Six million children under five die every year as a result of hunger. It is estimated that 26,500-30,000 children die every day because they do not have access to basic necessities. There are 2.2 billion children in the world and 1 billion live in poverty.

In June, Ray Zahab embarked on the oneXone Cross-Canada Challenge. He ran 80 km a day for 13 days straight, through 800 miles of Canada’s challenging countryside. He ran up to 16 hours a day, at times on two hours sleep, sometimes battling 70-km-an-hour winds. He ran coast to coast to coast and hit every checkpoint in between. And he ran the final 100 kilometers in 40 sleepless hours.

Zahab ran through the Yukon, Northwest Territories, British Columbia, Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. That’s like running the Boston Marathon three times a day for two weeks straight.

On his expedition, the 39-year-old met with Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams on the east coast and First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine on the west. Each time Zahab met a new face along his trek, he discussed two things: The expedition and child poverty in Canada and abroad.

Alongside OneXOne, an organization that helps to preserve the lives of disenfranchised children throughout the world, Zahab has become an outspoken opponent of child poverty.

Zahab fights alongside famous faces like Kate Hudson, Bono, Raine Maida, Chantal Kreviazuk, Bradd Pitt and Penelope Cruz, all of whom are conscious of the fact there are 2.2 billion children in the world and 1 billion live in poverty.


Zahab’s ongoing efforts with OneXOne have earned him several honours. He has been named the Athletic Ambassador to the organization and, in 2007, received the OneXOne Difference Award, a prestigious honour that has been given to Phil Fontaine and Wycleff Jean, among other notables.

But for Zahab, a man whose business card needs to be printed on fullscap paper – ultra-marathoner, personal trainer, author, motivational speaker and fresh-water advocate – it is never about the honours or the first-place ribbon or the personal exposure or the fame. For Zahab, it is always about the cause.

“On a personal level it feels great to get exposure but it feels better that the causes I’m running for are getting exposure,” Zahab says. “With every expedition I do there’s always a theme or an underlying reason behind the run.”

Remi L. Roy

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