By Sally Burton
VETERAN runner Ray Matthews ignored his age – and a broken toe – to conquer the Sahara Desert at the age of almost 70.
But last Friday evening, he transported a whole willing audience at Energie fitness centre to that bleak sandy landscape, to experience the fear, wonder, determination and exultation of the great race alongside him.
The Parkgate-based septuagenarian – one-time British ABA champion boxer, and international marathon runner – has a new string to his bow.
He has a sideline in motivational speaking, as he considers taking up an offer to represent the Desert Race organisation as their UK representative.
Before he launched into the Sahara experience, Ray introduced two youngsters to his audience.
Six-year-old cyclist Matthew Burkinshaw, of Rawmarsh, thinks nothing of 24-mile circuits, while 13-year old Liam Matthews, of Parkgate, won a seven gold medal tally in just one gymnastics event.
“Both already show the stamina and determination to be future champions”, said Ray.
Ray’s own background in boxing and martial arts taught him self-discipline from a young age.
But to Ray, help and encouragement are vital to success and he still thinks about his early mentors now, even when he’s running.
Ray treated his audience to a glimpse of his 100km trek, with a short film showing his dramatic journey over endless sand-dunes, in a standstorm and searing heat.
“Freezing cold nights spoiled the camaraderie”, said Ray.
Then he horrified his audience with images of peeling feet and horrendous injuries, before telling of the heroic efforts of a race doctor who managed to strap up the injuries so that all the competitors made it over the finish line.
Ray confided that the trek was so tough at times, he ended up talking to his shadow.
His account of the struggle and the ultimate elation when he reached his goal with his Union Jack held high, clearly moved his audience.
Although not everyone present would have fancied taking on a desert run, many left inspired to take up challenges of their own, as a result of Ray’s encouragement.
Ray now plans to deliver more motivational classes to inspire a wider audience.
But first he has the matter of three more marathons to complete in Lisbon, London and Edinburgh... purely for a bit of practice!