16-Year-Old Set To Become The Youngest Brit To Complete The ‘Toughest Foot Race On Earth’
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Featured Image Credit: Supplied/@marathondessables/Instagram
At 16 years old, Rafferty Jackson should be focusing on hanging out with friends, completing school exams and trying not to fall into the teenage trap of posting painfully embarrassing things on social media.
Instead, he's preparing to take on the Marathon Des Sables; a six-day foot race which takes place over a distance of about 250km in the Sahara Desert, throughout which competitors must carry their own food, sleeping gear and everything else they need to survive.
With a landscape made up of 'endless sand dunes, rocky jebels and white-hot salt plains', the challenge is described as being 'indisputably the toughest foot race on Earth'.
Pictures of the day's stage pic.twitter.com/GaHZyZdAf9— MARATHON DES SABLES (@marathonDsables) October 8, 2021
It's not a task competitors take on lightly, but Raff is determined to become the youngest Brit to complete the race to raise money for the charity Overcoming MS, which he has found to be the 'most incredible, caring, helpful' charity since his mum was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in 2009.
Raff hopes to follow in the footsteps of other family members in taking on the challenge, with his older brother having completed the Marathon Des Sables when he was 19, and his father having had two previous attempts at the race.
The teenager is set to run in the 2022 event alongside his father, who hopes to complete the race for the second time after having failed one of his previous attempts. Raff has found a lot of inspiration in his dad, who has in the past taken on a series of increasingly impressive challenges to raise money for Overcoming MS.
Speaking to UNILAD, Raff said: '[My dad is] one of the most inspiring people I know. Since my mum was diagnosed, my dad has gone all out to help raise money. He's done things like run seven marathons in seven continents in seven days, rowed the Atlantic and run the north pole marathon three times. I pretty much thought to myself, if he can do it, so can I. Anyone can! You just need the right mindset.'
The 16-year-old admitted he's not quite in the 'best athletic state' of his life, having thrown up twice while attempting to run a 5k, but he believes the support he has received on the run up to the race, as well as the knowledge he is raising money for Overcoming MS, will help motivate him.
He has previously covered a marathon distance of 27 miles, but at approximately 155 miles, the Marathon Des Sables is a whole different story.
The toughest part of the challenge, Raff believes, will come when he has to run an 80km stretch on the fourth day of the run. He anticipates being both mentally and physically exhausted, but noted that 'knowing so many people have given money to support me and help my mum will really help keep me going when I face hard moments.'
He added that it is 'important I finish this for my mum and the charity.'
Raff was too young to remember when his mum was diagnosed with MS, but he's conscious of the effect the diagnosis had on his family. He described it as being 'such a shock for everyone' and a 'turning point in the family', but with the help of Overcoming MS they were able to learn what it meant and how his mum could better cope with the condition.
He explained: 'My mum’s way of life has completely changed and improved since she found Overcoming MS; they have supplied my mum with so much information and help about what can help make living with MS better, she is probably even healthier since finding out about Overcoming MS than she was before she was diagnosed.'
'If my mum hadn’t found out about Overcoming MS her quality of life would be awful, day-to-day life would be hard, and that is why we are so happy to have found out about Overcoming MS', he added.
Unfortunately, people who are related to someone with MS are more likely to develop it, meaning Raff has a higher chance of getting the condition than those who do not have MS in the family.
Instead of letting this thought get in his way, though, Raff has the mentality that he needs to 'live [his] life as much as possible', noting: 'It’s important to just try to push through and overcome anything that comes our way.'
The knowledge that he is more likely to develop the condition has also proved to be further drive for Raff to take on the challenge, as he knows that if he had MS he would be 'eternally grateful for any money raised' to help deal with it.
After kicking things off at the end of March, Raff will aim to complete the race in early April. He described the notion of being the youngest Brit to complete the Marathon Des Sables as 'mad', and admitted that while he is 'scared' of taking on such a huge challenge at such a young age, he hopes that 'with the right training' he should be okay.
Completing the challenge would not only mean raising money, helping his mum and becoming the youngest Brit to finish, but it would also provide Raff with the knowledge that he succeeded in a 'stupid and amazing' task that he will remember for the rest of his life - not to mention the bragging rights.
With the challenge just weeks away, Raff and his dad are currently focused on upping their fundraising efforts, with a goal of £20,000.
Every little helps, and if you'd like to donate to the cause to help fund the incredible work of Overcoming MS and support Raff and his family, you can do so here.
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