When Tom Gallagher said he wanted to go out into the desert, he wasn’t just using a biblical metaphor.
The Riverside, Conn., ultraendurance athlete and Catholic is gearing up for his third seven-day footrace through 150 miles of desert to raise money for Malta House for pregnant women and children. His first two races through The 4 Deserts program were in the Atacama Desert in Chile and the Gobi Desert in China.
In Chile, Gallagher carried a 25-pound backpack filled with meals ready to eat, a sleeping bag, drink mix, socks, a foot kit to treat blisters, and nighttime equipment. Temperatures reached lows of 20 degrees at night and highs in the 80s during the day. Ice cold streams numbed his feet. Thick sand enveloped his shins.
He and about 70 others raced for seven to nine hours each day and slept on the desert floor. The first day began at 10,000 feet above sea level, and they climbed to 11,000 feet before descending to 8,000 feet.
Each day, Gallagher read his morning prayers using torn-out pages from the Magnificat. He recited simple prayers in his head throughout the day during tough points. He read evening prayers before bed. He finished the race in 29th place.
Gallagher wrote a speech to share his experiences. In it, he reflects on his faith and the biblical sensation of going out into the desert:
“I went into the desert and in fact met God–in the beauty of the desert itself and in the people with whom I journeyed the 150 miles in six days. Our Christian faith revels itself in the magnificence of the earth, and the Atacama Desert is truly an icon of God. Yet, the beauty of our faith is intimately revealed in relationships–ours with God and ours with each other. I came out of the desert with several lifetime friends. Such an undertaking teaches a person about the joys of the little things: a drink of water, the benefits of shade, the vital necessity of a good fire, the help of friends and the uplift of encouraging words.”
An entrepreneur, Gallagher works for a communications firm in New York and writes the “best practices” column for the National Catholic Reporter. He will race through the Sahara Desert in Egypt in October.