NYUAD Students Run Dead2Red, Win Best International Team

The UAE flag flying high near a sea shore.

URGENT DEAD TO RED: Please note that the weather in Jordan seems to have turned for the worse, so expect wet and cold weather. Please make sure you pack appropriately.

Less than 12 hours before 10 NYUAD students and four staff members headed to Jordan to run 242 kilometers from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea, the above email came in. Apparently, the team would not only be running nonstop all night, living on trail mix, and using the desert as a bathroom, but now there would also be snow, rain, and wind. All the perfect makings of an adventure, right?

At 1:30am the team reached the 120-kilometer halfway mark. Estimating that continuing their current pace would leave them finishing in 20 or more hours, the team switched strategies. So at around 3am, the team started doing 500-meter dashes. This cut down on rest time, but allowed the NYUAD runners to overtake three teams and cut an hour and a half off of their approximated time.

At close to 7am the sun started creeping through the clouds, illuminating the breathtaking desert scenery. With a new burst of energy and confidence, the team once again reduced the legs, this time to 200-meter sprints. According to the three returning runners — sophomores Anthony Spalvieri-Kruse, David Ponce, and Oleg Shenderyuk, this method worked last year to cut time, and they had been pushing to start it since the middle of the night. With twisted ankles, shin splints, aching backs, and complete exhaustion, the team began running faster than they ever thought possible.

"The most rewarding part was knowing that your body is capable of doing wonderful things," said sophomore Vivek Mukherjee. After suffering an ankle injury early in the race, the team feared one of their runners would be out. However, Mukherjee surprised them all by flying through the sprints, almost plowing down his teammate while attempting to hand off the baton. "By the end we all had our weaknesses, but that never stopped us from carrying our own," said NYU junior Sal Lavallo, who is spending the spring semester at NYUAD. The team motto became: your body is capable of doing amazing things as long as you keep a smile on your face.

With 241-kilometers down, the whole team joined together to sprint the last kilometer to the finish line. They linked arms, held hands, and inspired each other to stay at the same rapid pace. As the support drivers cheered, the 10 runners crossed the finish line and collapsed into a group hug. After 18 and a half life-changing hours, they had done it.

This was the second year that NYUAD students participated in the annual Dead2Red race, during which they competed against runners ranging in age from eleven to 53 with nationalities spanning the globe. "I came back this year to challenge myself to the breaking point where I think I can't go anymore, but I overcome it and run even faster," said two-time runner Oleg Shenderyuk (NYUAD '14). Finishing in 18 hours and 30 minutes, the team came in 12th and once again won Best International Team — even with the unexpected weather challenges, a smaller group, and less time between the 5am departure and 4pm start in comparison to last year.

"The hardest part was waking up and staying awake late at night when your body just screams for rest and recovery," said freshman Ronny Agyeman. This was Agyeman’s first time competing in the race, and he, along with fellow freshman Corey Meyer, started the race with a 5-kilometer run, the longest stretch completed by any of the NYUAD team members.

Throughout the race the team used multiple strategies to stay ahead. After Meyer and Agyeman’s 5-kilometer stretches, each runner took a 1-kilometer leg in a set rotation. This lasted from about 4pm to midnight, when they switched to two sets of 1-kilometer runs per car, allowing the team members in the other five-person car a 50-minute rest. That was just about the only sleep the team got over the course of the race.

I came back this year to challenge myself to the breaking point where I think I can't go anymore, but I overcome it and run even faster.

Oleg Shenderyuk, NYUAD Class of 2014