Imagine crossing 397km through the world’s oldest desert. Now, imagine crossing it on a mountain bike, in just 24 hours.

That was the challenge facing doctors Frikkie Botha, a specialist surgeon, and neurologist Vaja Zatjirua, both from Mediclinic Windhoek. While they agree that the event was far from easy, they also agree that the experience was nothing short of exhilarating – and that it has whet their appetites for the next trial.

Embracing the challenge

Dr Zatjirua admits that he feels most alive when facing a challenge – which is why he chose his specialisation. Neurology is a discipline where he is tested mentally every day, always honing his skills, but he also relishes breaking limits in the physical realm, too. That’s why he regularly participates in endurance events, a hobby he first started seven years ago.

“This was the third time I have taken part in the Desert Dash, and it was certainly one of the most difficult,” Dr Zatjirua says, ascribing this to the dusty, windy conditions that prevailed on race day, 8 December 2023.

Nonetheless, he and his three teammates – all cyclists who belong to the same cycle club and have been riding together regularly for the past three years – completed the race in 21 hours and 46 minutes.

Dr Zatjirua says that the rapport and camaraderie the team have built up over the years definitely stood them in good stead as they pedalled through the dunes and sand. “This is a harsh race, and it can be enormously taxing from an emotional perspective. There are many instances when you will be tempted to give up – even before the actual race day, because training and preparation requires enormous sacrifice and time away from your family. But knowing that you are accountable to your teammates helps keep you going, even when you’re feeling fatigued and suffering from sleep deprivation. Plus, completing a challenge like this is a reward in itself.”

The Purple Dot team: Dr Karl Frielingsdorf, Prof Chris Mulder, Nico Woest, driver, Prof Maarten Jacobs and Dr Frikkie Botha.

Like Dr Zatjirua, Dr Botha says that he already has his eyes on this year’s Desert Dash. His eagerness is surprising, given that his team’s experience was even more difficult than usual. “Two of our team members are based in the Netherlands. They’d been training in snowy conditions, then found themselves riding in temperatures topping 36 degrees, at much higher altitudes.”

This took a toll on the riders, resulting in severe cramps during the final leg of the competition. “Our riders were already extremely fatigued, as one of the riders had gotten lost and cycled an extra 12km as a result. Unfortunately, this cost us two hours,” Dr Botha informs. But this is where teamwork really came to the fore: “We kept pushing each other on during the last leg of the race. We unfortunately finished the race 10 minutes after the cut off time, but the team spirit was inspiring.”

He adds that the race was especially important to him, as he used it as a vehicle to promote the PurpleDot Project. This initiative was launched to raise awareness around stoma care in Namibia, which is often off limits to state patients because of its costly, intensive nature. Dr Botha explains that the PurpleDot Project repurposes stoma bags, so that they can be used again by these patients.

He’s planning to ride under the PurpleDot banner once more, and is looking forward to joining forces with other Namibia teammates.

The Die Hards team: Tileni Monghudi, Nikkie Mbeeli, Dr Vaja Zatjirua and Ujandja Zatjirua.

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