4 Deserts Grand Slam & Plus at the Namib Race 2022

The 4 Deserts Grand Slam began in 2008 when the famed "Ultramarathon Man" Dean Karnazes of the United States, set out to complete all 4 Deserts Ultramarathons (4 x 250km ultras) in one calendar year. Dean successfully completed the 4 Deserts and since that time, 78 individuals from around the world have completed the 4 Deserts Grand Slam and joined the 4 Deserts Club.

The 4 Deserts Grand Slam Plus is a challenge that only eight people (8) in the world have ever completed and includes completing the 4 Deserts Grand Slam as well as the RacingThePlanet Ultramarathon that moves to a new location each year and this year will take place in Lapland (Finland).

It takes a huge amount of time and dedication to attempt this challenge and in 2022 there are currently six individuals taking on the 4 Deserts Grand Slam Plus and four taking on the 4 Deeserts Grand Slam who are currently participating in the Namib Race 2022. There are some familiar faces amongst the challengers this year that will run alongside RacingThePlanet newbies. Here is the lowdown on the competitors jostling for a place in the hall of fame!

John Bezou (United States) is a retired army officer living in Colorado Springs, Colorado. During his 20-year army career, John served as a Healthcare Operations Officer and directed human performance development programs. Now he is the EO and Head Coach for Hypoxia Performance which provides high-performance coaching and professional crewing and pacing services for ultramarathon runners of all levels around the world. John is a seasoned distance runner with four 100-mile races and several other ultra-distance races under his belt. He is attempting to become the third American to complete the 4 Deserts Grand Slam Plus. John has partnered with The Ability Experience to raise money and spread a message of acceptance and understanding for people with disabilities. He is running to increase inclusion, awareness and accessibility in the sport of ultramarathons. He and his wife, Karen Lynn, will celebrate 25 years of marriage in 2022.

Matthew Cavanaugh (United States) from Colorado is a military officer in the United States Army and a recent kidney donor who is set to complete the 4 Deserts Grand Slam in 2022. He is representing the National Kidney Registry to demonstrate that life after donation is not any less, and that it really does only take one kidney to live a full life. In 2021, Matthew decided to donate one of his kidneys to a stranger in Seattle. This kick-started a chain of donations that helped get another seven people off the transplant wait list. Matthew has always been a trail runner, annually completing the 6-day, 120-mile Trans-Rockies Run in Colorado, finishing in the top few (3rd overall in 2021, 2nd before that) and hence his plan to prove that you can continue to live a full life and still run ultramarathons with one kidney.

Michal Gawron (Poland) Michal was set to complete the 4 Deserts Grand Slam in 2018 - he completed the Namib Race, the Gobi March and the Atacama Crossing but then had to cancel from the final race in the series and couldn't make it to Antarctica. He is now back to fulfil that challenge, adding the RacingThePlanet Ultramarathon in Lapland to his goal to join only eight people in the world who have completed the 4 Deserts Grand Slam Plus.

Julita Ilczyszyn (Poland) joins her first RacingThePlanet / 4 Deserts Ultramarathon at the Namib Race 2022. This is the first race in her quest to complete the 4 Deserts Grand Slam 2022. She is a mother of two children, wife to Kris and a fitness instructor. She says, "Nothing can stop me from making my dreams come true." Through the 4 Deserts Grand Slam she is raising money for the charity Pomoc Małym Nóżkom which literally translates as "help for the little legs". The charity helps children have necessary operations to give them a chance to run.

Terumichi Morishita (Japan) - Mori Mori, is an engineer working in the city of Toyota in Japan. He comes with an impressive record of ultramarathon results having won the championship in Okinawa Survival Race four(!) times in which he also holds the course record. He also has an impressive finishing time for 100km of 8:46:33; in a 24-hour race he completed 231km; he finished 69th in UTMF 2018 in under 30 hours; and was 39th in the MdS in 2019. The Namib Race 2022 is his first time at a RacingThePlanet / 4 Deserts Ultramarathon but he will likely be pushing for a podium finish. It is also his first race in the 4 Deserts Grand Slam Plus which he plans to complete in 2022.

Rena Mutaguchi (Japan) works at a financial IT company as a support engineer in Tokyo. She loves travelling and running. After taking part in the Marathon Des Sables in 2013, she got hooked on stage races. The Namib Race 2022 is her first RacingThePlanet / 4 Deserts Ultramarathon race in her quest to complete the 4 Deserts Grand Slam Plus - something only 8 people (only 2 women) have achieved so far. Rena is excited to meet wonderful people and run in the beautiful sceneries on her journey.

Anim Swart (Canada) is an endurance coach and the founder of Anim Swart Performance Coaching which focuses on endurance and transformational coaching. As a coach, her focus is on supporting people from where they are to where they want to be in achieving physical, mental and spiritual goals. Anim believes in this so strongly that her work is an extension of her life. A truly international competitor, Anim grew up in South Africa, spent much time in Canada, and currently lives in New York in the United States. She says that her mother and father were the best role models, teaching her to be tough as nails and to persevere no matter what. Her father completed Comrades at the age of 50, which inspired her to run more and run long. Anim’s impressive race results include qualifying for Ironman World Championships in Kona as well as many ultramarathons including the Namib Race, the Gobi March (Mongolia) and the Atacama Crossing (Chile), all in 2019. She is also the mother of two amazing kids, Daniella and David, who always tell her she is a little crazy. In 2022, she is set to conquer the 4 Deserts Grand Slam Plus (delayed from 2020 due to COVID-19) to complete all 4 Deserts Ultras plus RacingThePlanet: Lapland in one calendar year (seven months). Only 8 people (only 2 women) have achieved this so far. Her Grand Slam Plus journey starts with the Namib Race 2022 which is her fourth RacingThePlanet / 4 Deserts Ultra. Anim is also racing to raise money for the communities where the races take place through her charity Ultimate Power of One. In Namibia this will start with the DRC School Project which supports under-privileged children in the township surrounding Swakopmund

Michele Ufer (Germany) is a sports psychologist and mental trainer working with athletes, corporate managers and professional artists to improve mental toughness, performance, health and wellbeing. As a researcher, he has travelled across four continents to analyse the impact of flow on performance and satisfaction during ultramarathons and multi-day stage races. What attracts Michele more than finish times is the travel and adventure part of stage races, and the opportunity to meet amazing people from all over the world. He writes articles about his trips for leading German running magazines and has published a couple of books on mental training and running. Michele has previously completed at the Atacama Crossing in 2011 and joins us for the second time at the Namib Race 2022 to start his 4 Deserts Grand Slam 2022 journey.

Michael Williams (United States) is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Animal Emergency Clinic of South Florida in Miami in the United States. Married with three small children, he still finds time for running having completed ultras around the United States as well as five RacingThePlanet / 4 Deserts Ultramarathons: the Gobi March 2015, the Sahara Race (Namibia) 2016, RacingThePlanet: Patagonia 2017, the Atacama Crossing 2019 and RacingThePlanet: Georgia 2021. Mike is back for his big year in 2022 where he is set to join only eight other people in the world in the 4 Deserts Grand Slam Plus Club. Mike says he likes to hang out with 4 Deserts people which is good news as he will be spending a lot of time with them this year!

Elise Zender (Germany) is from Munich in Germany where she works in private equity. She joins the Namib Race 2022 as her first RacingThePlanet / 4 Deserts event. Her plan is to complete all 4 Deserts Ultramarathons in 2022 to achieve the 4 Deserts Grand Slam title. Through the races, she is running to support the women’s empowerment project of the NGO L'appel which sponsors scholarships for female education in Sierra Leone.

While all the inspirational people above are currently participating in the Namib Race 2022 to accomplish their goals, because the race schedule was altered due to COVID, there are three 4 Deserts Grand Slam Plus contenders and one Grand Slam contender who have already participated in the Namib Race 2021, and will be working towards their goal at races later this year and they are:

Ahmed Al Katheeri (United Arab Emirates) – successfully competed in the Namib Race 2021 RacingThePlanet / 4 Deserts Ultramarathon. He is one of the competitors attempting the coveted Grand Slam Plus. Previously, Ahmed has taken part in a 23-day expedition in the Himalayan mountains in 2011 and completed the Ironman Mont Tremblant in 2012. Most recently, he has completed the Innsbruck Alpine TrailRun Festival 2018, Race to the King 2018, Race to the Stones 2019, Meraas Al Marmoom Ultramarathon 2018, Marathon des Sables 2019 and received the Certification of Emirates National Achievement Record in 2019.

Beth Whitman (United States) - has been an adventurer and traveller for the majority of her life but only began running at 48 after telling herself, all of her life, she wasn't a runner. She ran her first marathon at 50, ran 5 marathons that year and then followed it with a Quadzilla. In 2019, she ran Epic5 Hawaii (and is now the race director) and has successfully completed RacingThePlanet: Georgia 2021 and the Namib Race 2021.