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Darkness to light

Photo credit: Ian Corless

Darkness to light


Last updated: 06-Nov-18

By Ian Corless

Water splashed over the large brimmed hat. Gilles poured and poured on Didier’s head to help reduce his temperature. Droplets floated in the air like stars in space and as they made contact they exploded with dramatic effect.

Dry and crusty salt on cheeks and lips disappeared with the release of the water but moments later re-appeared as the searing 50+ degree temperatures evaporated the water that continued to pour.

It was midday. Gilles and Didier had only dented the 80km distance that needed to be covered before the 34-hour cut off would be imposed on the longest day of the iconic Marathon des Sables.

Moving onward, Didier embraced Gilles arm for stability. A very sore and enflamed right knee could give way at any moment resulting with a fall. Gilles as ever was faithful to the cause and provided the support and self-sacrifice to ensure that Didier’s journey to the line was safe and as trouble free as possible.

Darkness approached and with it some food and rest. With a new lease of life the two continued into 13 km of relentless dunes that reached two to three meters in height. In the distance a green laser showed the direction to follow. It was a beacon of hope, slowly but surely getting closer. Two become one and as the sunrises and the heat returns, victory and the opportunity to fight another day seems possible.

From the finish line two shadows on the horizon appear. It is 4pm in the afternoon. The warriors have been on the trail for 32 hours. Tired, weary and emotional they approach the line.

I see a tattoo glisten in the scorching light on the arm of Didier; a MDS logo on his arm with nine stars around it, a star for every completed MDS. Next to the 9th star a space, would he obtain that 10th star at this edition of the race?

In the final meters to the line you can hear the shouts from MDS staff,  “Bravo Gilles”, a marshal shouts “Allez Didier” and then the clapping and whoop whooping starts. It’s done, they cross the line an incredible 75.7 km’s completed over some of the most demanding conditions possible.

Didier falls into the arms of Gilles in an embrace similar to a small child who has just found a lost mother.

Tears stream down his face as he sobs uncontrollably. Gilles, all smiles, pulls away and kisses him on each cheek with a passion seldom seen. It’s a moment to savor! They are the last two runners on the course and the moment epitomizes all that the Marathon des Sables represents. It shows a bond between two people and confirms all that is good and pure in human nature and ultra running.

You see this is no ordinary achievement.

Gilles is a guide and Didier is blind.

Photo credit: Ian Corless

Your Comments On Darkness to light

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06:37 01-12-14

Vixen, you are correct. I am well aware of all those points you make. However, this post was about creating an impact and asking the reader to question. Something which you did!

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08:07 27-11-14

Nice, highly fictionalized story about Didier Benguigui. Nice twist at the end and the reader will no doubt want to shed a tear. BUT this is not what the story is about. Sometimes it is important to look deeper into the lens and put yourself in the shoes of the athlete and let him tell the story.
Didier’s story is not about a blind runner making it through the long stage of MDS with the handicap of being visually impaired. It is the story of a dynamic, life-loving, charismatic man gradually slipping into a world of darkness. It is the story of a group of friends spanning decades. Each star on Didier’s arm represents not an MDS finish but a friend. Every year another friend guided Didier through his adventure. It is a celebration of friendship, friends brought together through their mutual passion for running. It is the story of those friends caught up in their lives of “metro, boulot, dodo …..and training” (commute, slog, sleep & training) and still finding time to train with Didier. It is about those friends being there, sometimes not being there and beating themselves up over it. It is about a man struggling to prepare for an event like MDS – how do you do that when you are visually impaired? It is about moments of depression, of coming to terms with total darkness. It is about the joy of communicating with Didier in his “code language” when you are guiding him, of the bond of true friendship. It is about Didier’s knees packing in and still pushing through to the end. His operation, the news that he will never run again and his determination to be back on the start line of MDS 2015 to walk the race.
As the French writer St Exupéry aptly says:
On ne voit bien qu'avec le coeur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.
We see with our hearts. What really matters is invisible to the eyes.
Let us take with us this lesson from Didier’s blindness.