Photo: Courtesy impossible2Possible
Ray Zahab pushes the limits of epic adventure through his organization, impossible2Possible.
Ray Zahab believes he can turn the impossible to possible. Zahab, 46, is an ultra-runner and the founder and patron of impossible2Possible, an organization that opens up an atlas of adventures and discovery for young people from around the world, crossing deserts, navigating polar ice fields, tackling some of the planet’s most inhospitable terrain.
Zahab took on his first epic journey in 2007, crossing the Sahara Desert in 11 days, raising awareness of the water crisis in North Africa.
“I learned amazing things about myself. We underestimate what we are capable of doing,” says Zahab, who lives in Chelsea, Que. with his ultra-runner wife Kathy and daughters Mia Sahara, 7, and Anika Ixa, 4. “Eight years before that, I made a decision to change my life, from being a pack-a-day smoker to climbing mountains, biking and running – serious running. I ran across the Sahara and told myself, ‘what the heck, if I can do this, people can do anything.”
After the Sahara run, Zahab craved the opportunity to explore the world on foot. Every year brought a new adventure, raising money and profile for social and environmental causes around the globe. There were ultra-marathons in every province and territory in Canada; a self-supported 1,100K trek to the South Pole; 650K through remote Siberia; 1,200K through Chile’s Atacama Desert; an Andes run through Chile and Argentina; 2,300K across the Gobi Desert in Mongolia; and a 1,200K crossing of the Patagonia Desert in South America.
Whether it’s Zahab’s extreme runs or mere ultra-challenges for the 17-21 year-olds selected for i2P’s youth adventures, there’s always a connection to the classroom. Each expedition is shared via satellite with students around the world. And for those youth lucky to be chosen for the adventures, there is no charge. Sponsors cover much of the cost of i2P’s expeditions. Zahab funds the rest.
We all have a limitless capacity to learn about the world, about yourself and share it with others.
“If I’d known at 17 the things I know from running and my desire to learn from adventure, I’d have done a lot of things differently in my life,” Zahab says. “We all have a limitless capacity to learn about the world, about yourself and share it with others.”
Zahab earns a living as a corporate speaker and coach. He lectures, for free, to students at dozens of schools around the world every year. His recent travels had him motivating audiences from Vancouver to Geneva to Hong Kong. In December, closer to home near Ottawa, Zahab was awarded the Governor General’s Meritorious Service Cross for his work through i2P.
“Ray’s great talent is that he takes anybody, no matter what the skillset, and he can relate to that person and lift them up. His energy level is contagious,” says Zac Addorisio, who co-owns Runnersunited.com with Zahab. When asked if he feels motivated by Zahab, Addorisio adds: “Every phone conversation, no matter what, when you leave the phone he gets your energy level up and gets you focused.”
Zahab has suffered frostbite, parasites, burns, boils and blisters, among other injuries; “but you get through it. You’re not focused on what hurts. You have to tell yourself, ‘If I can get to the end of the day, I can keep running. With that mental attitude, we can do amazing things.”
The next i2P youth expedition is going to Death Valley in April. Students from around the world can apply to be on the two-week expedition where five will run in the scorching desert and another will study the expedition and develop school curriculum. Zahab is also planning a 2,000K ultra-run across the Namibian Desert, accompanied by Canadian runner Jen Segger and Italian Stephano Gregoretti. Throw in a mountain bike ride across the Arctic at -50C followed up by a 50C ride across the Atacama and you get an idea of what Zahab has in store for 2016.
“Every day that we have is an amazing day to live,” he says. “I choose to live my life the way I do because we underestimate what we can do. We have the ability to be extraordinary. Whatever it is, in business, sports or life, there’s an amazing kernel of greatness that everyone can crack.”