Desert Storm

Scorching Heat and the Sahara Couldn't Kill a Cop

Sep 1, 2004
Outside Magazine

"All I could think about was that I was going to die a horrible death," Mauro Prosperi, the Italian marathoner and pentathlete, said in an interview after he was lost in the Moroccan Sahara for ten days. "I had once heard that dying of thirst was the worst possible fate." In April 1994, the 39-year-old policeman from Sicily signed on for the Marathon des Sables, a seven-day, 145-mile run across the Sahara. Prosperi was in seventh place when a windstorm kicked up and violent clouds of sand obscured the course. He wrapped a towel around his face and stumbled on, trying to maintain his position, until he was forced to take shelter under a bush. When the wind subsided, the racecourse was nowhere in sight. With temperatures soaring above 100 degrees, Prosperi was lost, and had only a few swallows of water left in his bottle.

Three days later, the runner spotted a small Muslim shrine, and he set his Italian flag outside on a tent pole. Nearly mad from thirst, he caught two small bats, wrung their necks, and slurped their blood. Convinced he couldn't last another day without water, Prosperi used a piece of charcoal to write a note to his wife, then slit his wrist—but his blood had thickened and wouldn't flow. In desperation, he set out across the desert toward a mountain range 20 miles in the distance. Five days later, he came upon a group of Tuareg nomads, who took him on camelback to a nearby village. He'd walked to Algeria—130 miles west of the course—dropped 33 pounds, and severely damaged his liver. He has since returned to compete in the Marathon des Sables six times.