Charlie Engle lives his life in extremes…and yet in great balance. While acting as a Producer on Extreme Home Makeover, Charlie raced. But he did not just race, he finished and even won some of the most hardcore extreme events in the world, like ultra marathons in the great expanse of Mongolia, through the jungles of Amazon, and in the aptly-named Death Valley. There was also ultra-cycling across America and the Eco Challenge in Borneo. Then Charlie and two other runners decided to take on a goal that they were told was impossible: to run across Africa.
Across the Sahara Desert, to be specific – possibly the most unforgiving place on earth, with an ecosystem that is considered extreme at best. Sweltering daytime heat, with highs of 140 degrees, drops to freezing temperatures at night, with lows of 30 degrees. Yet run across Africa they did, at the pace of two marathons a day. They encountered significantly varying terrain and serious obstacles, including a 21-day sandstorm, swarms of locusts the size of small birds, traveling bands of armed rebels, and even active minefields. Every single day, Charlie told himself he just had to run until lunch ? he?d decide then if he could actually continue.
All in all, Charlie led the trio of runners across 9 ecosystems and 6 countries, covering 4,500 miles in 111 days … without a single day of rest. They went through a total of 75 pairs of sneakers as they burned 10,000 calories per day each. But the most painful statistic of all, according to Charlie? A whopping total of two showers the entire journey.
The point of the run? To raise awareness and promote clean water initiatives across Africa by utilizing the attention they were generating. So Charlie co-founded H20Africa.org, created with the intention of supporting sustainable, integrated water programs. As they discovered first-hand throughout their grueling experience, access to clean water lies at the crux of many challenges facing African people ? health and education, of course, but also human rights. The humanitarian expedition, narrated and executive produced by Matt Damon, was filmed and will be released as a feature-length documentary this year, “Running The Sahara”.
Next up? On September 13th, 2008, Charlie will begin a new epic journey – Running America. He and a fellow runner will need to cover nearly 70 miles a day for 45 day consecutive days, starting in San Francisco and ending in Times Square, New York City. This is also an attempt at a world record, the fastest crossing of the United States on foot. This time around, he has partnered with the United Way. With childhood obesity at an all-time high, Charlie is determined to do everything he can to bring about a systemic change in the way America approaches health and ﬁtness.
Why all this effort to generate awareness? ?Whenever I get a chance to talk to people, I use the opportunity to say that we all have a social and moral responsibility to use the gifts we have to make life better for other people. I went to the Sahara Desert hoping this would make me a better person, and that?s what happened. My focus is less self-centered, and now that I?ve seen the problem for myself, I have no choice but to do something about it.?