In early March, we saw on Facebook that John Hardy‘s CEO, Damien Dernoncourt, was setting out on a week-long, 155 mile race across Chile’s Atacama Desert. Known as the Atacama Crossing, and part of the Racing the Planet series of outdoor footraces, Mr. Dernoncourt finished 33rd out of 150 participants, raising money for an organization that’s near and dear to his heart, Job for Life. While we saw the pictures on Facebook and read the official release, given that we got tired just reading about his adventure, we wanted to get a little deeper insight into what his experience was like:
Couture: You recently completed a 155 mile race across the Atacama Desert, how did you prepare for such a grueling endeavor?
DD: There are 5 things you need do well in order to be ready for a race like this: training and staying healthy; knowing your equipment well enough so you don’t injure yourself; having the right food so you don’t run out of power quickly; and being organized – I once saw a guy taking a sleeping pill in the middle of the desert during a race thinking it was aspirin!
Couture: From a physical standpoint, was this one of the most difficult tasks you’ve ever completed?
DD: This was the 5th time I have done this kind of race and this race was the hardest ever! It was extremely hot – up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit! The Atacama is known to be the driest place on earth so I had to adjust food and water intake and go slightly slower. I had to put in more efforts than I had expected to finish the event. I also had to overcome my body’s weaknesses to keep my mind strong as the race is all about having a strong mind.
Couture: I know that not everyone who starts out actually finishes this race, did you ever feel like quitting? If so, how did you convince yourself to persevere?
DD: Of course it crossed my mind! When the race became extremely difficult, and I felt exhausted, it was very tempting to ask myself: Why am I here? But it only occurred for a very short amount of time. I have been a dad for 7 years, and I often tell my kids not to quit and let your team down unless your doctor tells you that you are unfit to continue. On top of that I had my mind on the orphans in Bali, for whom I was racing to raise funds for. “Job for Life” is a very meaningful cause that would really change the lives of these young people. I had sent a fund-raising email to 2,500 people and they had supported me in form of donations or words of encouragement. The last thing I wanted to do was to disappoint 2,500 friends at once.
Couture: I imagine there are people from all walks of life participating in this race, tell us about some of the people you met? Were any close connections made?
DD: There are only 150 competitors for the race, and by the end of the race it’s likely you have spoken with every one of them. Some of the competitors had to overcome a great deal of physical and personal challenges just to be able to do the race: there were two athletes who are blind, there was a lady who was over 70 years old, there was someone with diabetes, there was a single mother with two children, there were guys who work for the United Nations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It was a very humbling and inspiring experience to run alongside such extraordinary people.
Couture: So you mentioned that you were running to support “Job for Life,” from that perspective, was the event successful?
DD: Yes it was! I successfully raised USD 25,000 for “Job for Life.” The program is small, but it works. The money I raised from the race will help us grow the program so that more children can receive the opportunity to change their destiny for the better. For this, I am grateful to all those who have donated towards this meaningful cause!
Couture: Tell us briefly why “Job for Life” is so important to you and your company’s culture.
DD: Bali is the genesis of John Hardy, where the land and the people are unique and very close to my heart and it’s important we give back to the communities we operate in. We have been known as one of the global leaders in “sustainable luxury” – from using 100% recycled silver, to planting bamboo seedlings every year to offset our carbon emission while helping Bali restore natural habitats and protect the water table. On helping the local community, we outsource some of our chain weaving work to local women, so they can work from home, taking care of their children while bringing in additional income for the family.
“Job for Life” supports severely disadvantaged Balinese orphans through education and vocational training. We believe by giving them the skills that will help them land a job of their choice after high school, they will have a chance of living a good and independent life.
Couture: What was the first “comfort” you indulged in when you got home?
DD: A glass of red wine of course!
Cheers to that!