The Dakar Rally represents the ultimate sporting adventure, where both amateur and professionals compete together against each other, and ultimately to see how far they can push themselves. This year Graeme Sharp made history as the very first Zimbabwean rider to ever complete it on a bike! It is a phenomenal achievement by the 33-year-old who finished overall in 74th position in the biker category.
Born and raised in the outdoors where exploration, adventure and motorcycles were the order of the day – Graeme spent his childhood on a large cattle ranch in central Zimbabwe near the town of Mvuma.
After moving to Lake Kariba in northern Zimbabwe, Graeme was introduced to off – road trail and enduro riding where, at 14 years old on a Yamaha WR 400 he began to explore vast swathes of the Zambezi Valley. These regular forays into the wilderness fueled his love for adventure and sometime during these expeditions a seed was planted to one day compete in the Dakar – the second biggest motorsports event in the world.
In 2013 Graeme had the opportunity to travel to South America and immersed himself in the Dakar Rally – travelling in a converted race truck Graeme followed the race from Lima in Peru south to Argentina. It was here in the buzzing heart of the bivouac that he knew his childhood dream would become a reality.
In 2017 Graeme decided that the time was now, or never to make his dream happen and decided that 2020 would be the year. Somehow the puzzle started coming together and Graeme returned to Zimbabwe from working overseas. In 2017 he completed his first International Rally – the Baja Rally in Mexico, followed by several more in 2018 and 2019. In May 2019 he got the call to say he had qualified for the Dakar Rally!
Against a backdrop of an ever-more challenging economy, Graeme managed to find the fuel to put in the required training, and enough funding to get him to the start line on the 5th January this year.
The founder of the Dakar Race is Thierry Sabine. The first edition was from Paris to Dakar in 1978 and featured 182 vehicles. His motto for the race was to provide “a challenge for those who go, a dream for those who stay behind.” For this year’s race, a new was chosen to host it after nearly a decade in South America – the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. 5 categories of vehicles participated over 12 days and nearly 7,500km.
The race certainly lived up to its reputation as the hardest endurance event in the world. Only 60% of the bikers field finished the event, and unfortunately there was a fatality on Stage 7 which meant Stage 8 was cancelled. Bad weather and strong winds forced another stage to be cancelled halfway through for safety reasons.
Graeme said that, “My game plan for the race was to go slow and steady, and consistency would take me to the finish line. My months of preparation in the gym with Grant Mitchell, my trainer, meant my body could take the punishment of 8 – 12 hours in the bike every day. To keep my mind strong, I reminded myself to enjoy and live in the moment. I also took huge encouragement from my supporters, family and friends in Zimbabwe and their messages helped me keep going every day.”
Graeme said that he found the cold during the race difficult to bear – the temperature got as 2’degrees at night, which was hard for a Kariba native to handle! He said that the most dangerous part of his race was when he helped his teammate, Ross Branch who is from Botswana, back to the bivouac after his engine had failed – 170km in the dark towing another motorbike was definitely “sketchy”!
We asked Graeme what advice he could share on achieving goals, he said, “We all walk our own journeys and have the opportunity to face our own Dakar dreams in life. For me the reality is that regardless of material wealth, status, background our time here is finite and we all end up in the same size hole in the ground with just our dreams and seized or missed opportunities for company! My advice? Do not lie on your deathbed one day with the ghosts of your dreams and
missed opportunities haunting your last hours on this earth! Be big, be bold and chase what sets your heart on fire – and don’t stop.
Images provided by Graeme Sharp
Originally published in the 116th Issue of Ndeipi Magazine