CAIRO: “I’m trying to experience life in a different way. I want to break away from the idea of needing money to be happy,” said Omar Khaled (also known as Omar El-Galla), referring to his perilous adventures.
This year has been quite extraordinary for El-Galla. First, he cycled around Egypt, pedalling more 6,500 km in 65 days. Then, a few months later, he ran the length of the country, completing a marathon every day and covering 1,500 km in a little over a month.
Both were solo adventures, undertaken without any support, but El-Galla has not always lived on the edge.
“I worked really hard for 10 years, and I was successful, but I was unhappy,” he told Arab News.
El-Galla had a successful career and a steady income, which is what most people want at his age, but he never felt fulfilled.
One day, he decided to quit his job and began following his passion for adventure.
The Egyptian adventurer faced harsh conditions on his cycling and running expeditions, sleeping on the roadside and dealing with uncertain weather conditions.
Nevertheless, he loved every second of it. “During those trips, I experienced really special moments of clarity. Pushing yourself physically and mentally that much puts you in a state of mind one can rarely achieve otherwise,” he said.
Despite testing his own limits several times, El-Galla refuses to slow down. His next record-breaking effort includes a triathlon — swimming, biking and running — with a swim in the Red Sea from Taba to Shalateen.
He estimates that the 900 km distance will take three to four months to cover. But this time his adventure has another purpose.
“On my cycling journey, I knew when I was approaching a small town in the desert because I could see plastic bags and bottles everywhere,” he said.
“When I ran the length of Egypt, I used to see plastic strewn all over the Nile and farmland.”
His shock at the level of plastic pollution set the goal for his next expedition. “I want to shed light on plastic waste and its impact on the environment,” El-Galla said.
However, planning his environmental odyssey has been a logistical challenge, and he has had to change his plans several times.
Initially, a sailboat was to follow El-Galla for support, but a delay in gaining permits forced him to scrap the idea. Instead, he will swim along the shoreline. “I’m going to tie a buoy with food, water, a sleeping bag, a power bank and a satellite tracker around my waist while swimming,” he said.
The plan is to swim 12-15 km every day and then get out of the water to look for food and a campsite.
Logistics aside, the physical training has been beyond anything El-Galla has experienced.
“In the beginning, I spent a month swimming every day at Dahab and then went back to Cairo for daily swims in the pool,” he said. “It has taken every minute of my time for the past five months.”
El-Galla will undertake his swim in cooperation with “if,” an initiative launched by renowned Egyptian adventurers Omar Samra and Ahmed Gabr.
The project aims to provide sustainable alternatives to plastic.
“I’m going to create a map through this swim highlighting the locations along the Red Sea coast that are most affected by pollution,” El-Galla said.
The map will be used to organize clean-ups in those areas as well as raise awareness in surrounding towns about the damage caused by plastic.
Financing the expedition is also a challenge. El-Galla has launched a crowdfunding campaign, hoping this will help him finish what he describes as “a very important journey.”
“This swim can spread awareness about the problem of plastic waste. If only a few people started using less plastic, imagine the difference that would make. If I can create this kind of impact, I will be fulfilled,” El-Galla said.
• This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.