Korean Runners Help Murakami Finish Sahara Race

Post a Comment » Written on April 24th, 2006     
Filed under: News
CHICAGO, IL (April 24, 2006) – Peter Murakami’s mother didn’t want her son to participate in the Marathon de Sables, a 150-mile, seven-day race across the Sahara.

“I was not very happy about it, but he was determined to do it,” says Nancy Murakami, who attends North Park Covenant Church. “I tried to talk him out of it, but he would have nothing of it.”

Not that she didn’t have anything to worry about – within days of the race’s start, one runner was in a French hospital in a coma, and a Finnish woman had a stroke.

The 23-year-old Chicago native recently completed the race, in which 200 of 700 participants had dropped out, including the top American runner. Murakami credits a group of South Koreans for enabling him to finish – “they saved me for sure.”

“I feel my extremely difficult time during the race was caused not only by the race course and conditions, but very much by the fact that my food supply was ill-advised,” Murakami says on his website. He explains that too many of his needed calories came in powder form to be mixed with water – drinks that tasted bad and contained too little salt.

“Have you ever had to cry, but denied yourself the luxury because you could spare neither the water nor the salt?” he writes.

The Korean runners supplied him with the right kind of food and calories. They didn’t ask for anything in return, but Murakami says he insisted. The Koreans took the powdered food, and even said they liked it.

They would offer additional help that enabled Murakami to complete the race. “Because of my devastated state at night after each of the middle stages, they even insisted on taking care of tasks like making fire and collecting water rations at the bivouac at night without my help, which would have been extremely difficult for me in my condition then,” he writes. “On the interminable stretch from checkpoint 3 to the finish line of stage 3, one of them was there to lend me his walking stick and keep me going.”

Despite top finishes in a number of other distance events, Murakami previously never had a problem with blisters: that would change in the Sahara. “The end of the longest stage, which went well into the early morning hours, and the last two stages were run on feet with painful blisters,” he says.

Murakami endured the hardships because of more than the challenge of the race – he was raising money to help researchers combat a rare crippling disease that has left a friend in a wheelchair. Murakami has raised around $6,000 to benefit the Friedreich’s Ataxia Research Alliance.

Friedreich’s Ataxia is a rare multi-system disorder that involves the degeneration of nerve tissues. People affected by the disorder suffer muscle weakness and loss of coordination (ataxia) in the arms and legs, vision impairment, hearing loss, aggressive scoliosis (curvature of the spine), diabetes mellitus or carbohydrate intolerance, and enlargement of the heart.

An Evangelical Covenant Church pastor and his wife in California were encouraged when they heard of Murakami’s race. Two children of Tim Boynton, pastor of Kingsburg Covenant Church, and his wife, Tracey, have been diagnosed with the disease.

Andrew, 13, was diagnosed when he was eight, and he now gets around with the assistance of a walker. Their eight-year-old daughter, Kennan, has begun showing the effects of the disease, although she still is able to get around under her own strength.

“It was exciting,” Tim Boynton says about learning of Murakami. “We were so surprised that anyone else in the Covenant would know about the disease.”

Several years had been needed to diagnose Andrew, who was the first child treated with the disease at Valley Children’s Hospital of California in Madera. A genetic test finally revealed the cause for his deteriorating condition, which included increased falling. Andrew currently is part of a clinical drug trial administered by the National Institutes of Health.

To learn more about Murakami’s race and his efforts to support research, see Murkami website. To learn more about the disease, please see Friedreich’s Ataxia.

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