A German-Namibian school relay team is to take part in the Desert Dash - one of the world's toughest one-day mountain bike races. The Germans and Namibians have been training for months - thousands of kilometers apart.
Diego Turo doesn't have a lot of time on his hands these days. When the 18-year-old comes home from school in the afternoon, he gulps down some food and then rushes out to get on his bike and start his training routine. The young man from the western German city of Cologne is preparing for a big adventure, the legendary "Desert Dash" in Namibia, which he plans to enter along with his friend, Jacques Mecky, at the start of December.
The Dash is a mountain-bike race across the desert. Measuring 370 kilometers (230 miles) from the capital, Windhoek in the interior to Swakopmund on the Atlantic coast, it is considered one of the toughest one-day races in the world. The heat during the day, the cold at night, the eternal dust, the merciless gravel roads and the sometimes deep sand - among cyclists the finishers of this legendary race enjoy the highest respect.
Anyone who attempts the Desert Dash must be extremely fit - both physically and mentally, even to complete part of the race. This is how Diego and Jacques plan to do it. The two German students will take part in a four-man relay along with two 18-year-old men from Namibia. The four will do part of the course together and part of it alone, but each of them will wind up doing 130 kilometers.
Achieving a lot together
The project is the brainchild of the German-Namibian charity "Pro Namibian Children (PNC)," which operates a school for orphans in the southwestern African country.
"With this campaign we want to demonstrate that you can achieve a lot if you embark on something together," said PNC board member Merle Elsner.
The club found the two Namibian cyclists in the school for orphans and in order to complete the foursome, the charity contacted the Cologne cycling club "Scuderia Südstadt." Diego and Jacques were enthusiastic about the project right from the get-go.
"It is a great cycling challenge. And since it is for a good cause, the decision to take part was a no-brainer," Jacques said.
The contrasts could hardly be greater. On one hand you have two young men who grew up in prosperity in Germany, on the other; you have the two orphans from Namibia, whose lives have amounted to a constant struggle for survival.
"We want to show that where people come from says nothing about their abilities. The four of them will battle side by side and on the same footing to achieve one goal: to arrive (at the finish line)," Elsner said.
Training via WhatsApp and e-mail
All four have been training intensively for a good six months now, Chris Nero and Samuel Alfons in Namibia, Diego and Jacques in the Cologne area. They haven't actually met in person yet, but they communicate on a regular basis via WhatsApp and e-mails.
"I've never been to Africa before so I'm incredibly excited," said Diego, who admitted that he knows very little about Africa.
"Until now I didn't know much about the continent, just what you occasionally see on television: famine and misery and all that," he said.
Namibia is a country of only about two million inhabitants and the unemployment rate in this emerging economy stands at about 30 percent. There is a wide gap between rich and poor and the country's rich mineral resources are largely sold to foreign companies.
Living below the poverty line
A large portion of the population lives below the poverty line, and there are an enormous number of orphans. PNC is dedicated to supporting to these children. Among its projects is a school of 130 pupils on the edge of the Kalahari Desert, which is funded through donations from Germany.
This is the school that Samuel and Chris attend. A year ago, neither of them had never ridden a mountain bike. Now they train hard every day to prepare themselves for the extreme event that lies before them. Together with Diego and Jacques, they want to use the race to draw attention to their concerns and needs.
The current urgent need is a new drinking-water well, and PNC is looking for donations to make it happen.
"Because it hasn't rained for so long, the groundwater level has dropped below 30 meters (99.5 feet)," Elsner said.
This led to the old well drying up, putting the further operation of the school in jeopardy.
The two Germans are to arrive in Namibia early next month, a week before the race. This will give them an opportunity to train with their Namibian teammates and see what life is like in the southwestern African nation.
"I am really looking forward to seeing how they live in Namibia," Diego said.
Perhaps seeing how his teammates live will turn out to be more memorable than the race itself.