Most people wouldn’t consider running across the world’s driest desert a vacation.
But most people aren’t like Richard Malcolm.
Malcolm, a Gainesville native who currently resides in Shanghai, China, recently completed the second desert race of a four-part race series called "4 Deserts."
The series has been called one of the world’s top endurance races — with good reason.
Racers have seven days to run or walk more than 150 miles across some of the world’s most inhospitable deserts. They carry everything they need to survive on their backs. The only help they get is a water station every six miles or so and a tent to camp in at night. Other than that, they’re on their own.
Malcolm, a lifelong athlete and former Gainesville High School football player, said running is a relatively new activity for him. When his friends in Shanghai suggested he give it a try three years ago, he was hooked. He ran a few marathons but decided 26 miles just wasn’t difficult enough.
Then in 2012 he signed up for the Gobi March, a 150-mile race across Asia’s largest desert and the windiest nonpolar desert on earth.
While pushing his personal limits across the Gobi, he realized a lot of the other racers were pushing for a cause bigger than themselves.
"At first, the original race that I got into, the inspiration was that I was going to do this race to prove I could," Malcolm said. "Then when I discovered I could do it I thought, ‘I’ll do this for my nephew.’"
Malcolm’s 11-year-old nephew, Connor Daniel, was diagnosed with epilepsy when he was 2 years old. He has anywhere from 10 to 40 small seizures a day.
This month, Malcolm completed his second desert run across the world’s driest desert, the Atacama Desert in Chile. He used the race as a way to raise money and awareness for the Epilepsy Foundation of Georgia.
Malcolm intends to run the other two races in the series, the Sahara Desert in Egypt and The Last Desert in Antarctica, to further support the foundation.
Though Malcolm lives in China, his sister and brother-in-law, Deana and Clint Daniel, were busy spreading the word about his efforts stateside.
Clint Daniel said that epilepsy is often overlooked when people decide they want to support a cause because the condition isn’t life-threatening. But it is life-altering for many of those who have it.
Connor’s seizures cause him to lose consciousness for a few seconds to a few minutes. He is unaware of what happened during those moments; the seizures affect his short-term memory.
Clint Daniel compared his son’s condition to a DVD that skips all day long. He said on a bad day, Connor may have difficulty piecing the day’s events together.
The family sold T-shirts emblazoned with Connor’s name, and the names of other people in North Georgia with epilepsy, to try to raise money for the foundation. They promoted the race and the foundation with an "UltraRunner for Epilepsy" Facebook page.
They raised $725 for the foundation.
"We are very excited about this amount being that this is our first time raising money for a cause," Deana Daniel said. "We are more excited about the awareness we raised as well as making people who suffer from seizures feel they matter and are important."
Deana Daniel said the primary goal was to let people know about the condition, and make them aware there are people who want to help those who have it.
Malcolm wore one of the shirts to show other racers why he put himself through such a challenging
Malcolm said the Atacama’s terrain made the race more difficult than the Gobi.
"We crossed areas that could not be described any better than ‘crud,’" Malcolm said. "There was no path, and as soon I stepped down for a millisecond, my foot would sink half an inch, completely destroying my shoes. We crossed the salt flats in the heat of the day. The temperature reached over 120 degrees Fahrenheit with 2 percent humidity."
But when Malcolm wondered if he could take another step, or if he could complete the race, he looked at the names on his shirt and thought about the people who don’t have the option to quit their struggles.
"Honestly, when I’m running I think about my nephew," Malcolm said. "I mean he has as many as 40 seizures in one day. They’re minor seizures where he just kind of drifts off and has to collect himself and remember everything and keep going. You just kind of think, ‘I can take another step. That’s no big deal. I can keep on going.’"
Malcolm crossed the finish line in just under 48 hours. His father, uncle and brother-in-law all traveled to Chile to watch him finish.
Malcolm said he was filled with emotion after seeing his family cheering him on after such a grueling experience. His father placed his medal around his neck.
"I was relieved, exhausted, in pain and at the same time I was overcome with strength and resolution," Malcolm said. "I was full of utmost joy and happiness."
His family said it was difficult to express how proud they are of what Malcolm has done and intends to do for the people who face daily challenges because of seizures.
Connor said he is proud of his uncle who he thinks "is a superhero."
"He has just gone beyond what a normal person would do," Clint Daniel said. "He did this solely for people to know about the foundation and be able to contribute to people with epilepsy."