In what could be considered as the ultimate test to a racer’s endurance (of course properly called an “endurance race”), it’s a highly remarkable achievement for an amateur racer like Michael Shepard to even finish the Dakar Rally, better known as The Dakar. But finish it he did, and though he didn’t bag the first place, he is the first kiwi (a New Zealander) to race a motorbike in the said event. Shephard finished 94th out of 234 participants.
“My goal is to finish in one piece,” Shepard, who now lives in Great Britain, said. And it’s a reasonable goal because as most racers are aware, this rally race usually ends with a few people missing, cars tipped over, several broken bones, and even fatalities. “Every year a couple of people get killed doing this rally, so for him just to get to the end will be an achievement,” his brother, Peter, said. The race’s origin and destination varied over the years, but Dakar was always either, or both. Due to political conflict, though, the race was held in Buenos Aires this year. Competitors covered an average of 736 kilometers on each of the 13 race days. With the heat, sand, slush, mountains, and other elements that make up a truly difficult terrain, just crossing the finish line is truly a hard-won achievement, and is reason enough to celebrate: in fact, only 113 of the participants finished the course.
Although Shepard kept in shape by mountain biking, jogging, and weight training, he has made no claims to professionalism. So not only is he an amateur biker who attempted to finish a 13-day endurance race against 500 other racers, he has no sponsorship as well. Shepherd saved up and pulled out $123,854 from his own pocket just to compete. “He didn’t have any sponsorship so he saved all the money himself… it’s something he’s always wanted to do,” said his brother.
Hi wife, Camilla, just gave birth to their first child when Shepard headed to South America for this battle. But his proud wife doesn’t mind taking over the nappy duty for a while, and even commented jokingly about seeing him on TV: “I saw him on Eurosport a few times, stuffing his face and looking very hairy. A bigger worry than keeping safe on the rally was that he’d get injured celebrating in Buenos Aires.”
Shepard was presented with his medal last Sunday. Elated over his success, he said “What I aimed for was just to get to half way, but to finish in the top 100 is fantastic. I had a good team behind me so when I came in late at night, once after 18 hours in the saddle, I’d just hand over the bike like I was handing a horse to its’ groom.”
Shepard’s success gives every amateur racer hope that with the right go-get-it attitude, conquering even The Dakar is possible. Even on a motorbike.