Cape Town - A soon-to-be 65-year-old periodontist keeps defying the odds by participating in extreme sports events that will leave younger athletes shaking in the sand and quaking in their boots.
Hans van Heerden has just returned from the 33rd Marathon des Sables in the Sahara Desert where he was the only South African to participate in the gruelling 250km walk across the Sahara Desert.
The race, which was organised by Atlantide Organisation Internationale, took place from April 6 to16 in southern Morocco.
The annual event is hosted by the Moroccan Ministry of Tourism and brought together about 1300 French and foreign participants. It is said to be the oldest stage race in the world.
“This race is called highway to hell. You run for a week. Most of it is either soft sand or rock. It’s fully self-supported and you carry all your food and sleeping bags for the week on your back,” said Van Heerden.
Day-time temperatures in the Sahara Desert can reach 51ºC and night-time temperatures can drop to 2ºC.
“On the longest single day of the race, I ran for 27 hours. We had massive sandstorms and our tents blew away. A huge problem is blisters and I also lost most of my toenails,” said Van Heerden
The Claremont-based periodontist criss-crossed two mountain ranges during the Marathon des Sables event.
Other feats under his belt include the 42km North and South Pole races, the same distance on Mount Everest and a 100km race in Mongolia.
“The events at the North and South Poles take place on floating ice and were particularly tough,” said Van Heerden.
The married father of two, says he is in the gym at 5.30 every morning and is also a keen boxer.
“I am an old runner,” said Van Heerden.
But Van Heerden has no plans to take it easy any time soon.
In January 2019, he will be back in South America where he will aim to summit the Acon Contiguan mountain.
“I have tried it twice before and I was blown off by a blizzard on both occasions. Hopefully the next time will be third time lucky or third time dead,” said Van Heerden.
The die-hard periodontist has already walked 600km from east to west Greenland.
Van Heerden runs a clinic in Claremont and says it’s all about time management for him.
Asked about what his wife has to say about his adventures, Van Heerden smilingly said, “she just ignores me”.
He told Weekend Argus he was away from home for four weeks for the Marathon des Sables but smaller events that he has participated in only kept him away from home for two-and-half weeks.
The Marathon des Sables was won by Rachid El Morabity for the sixth time, fifth time in a row, and his brother Mohamed El Morabity in his first event, finished in second place just 26 minutes behind.
“This was my birthday present to myself,” said Van Heerden who turns 65 in October. And he did it “for the sheer love and fun of it”.