Kidney Donor Matt Cavanaugh Completes 155-Mile Namib Desert Race

Matt Cavanaugh after completing the Namib Race

Matt Cavanaugh, an active duty US Army Strategist and living kidney donor, has completed the Namib Race—the first race in the Racing the Planet 4 Deserts Ultramarathon Series, a series of four races covered approximately 1,000 kilometers.

Matt completed the Namib Race on May 7, coming in fourth out of 33 people who finished all six stages of the race. It was a grueling event, covering 155 miles across Namibia’s Namib Desert in temperatures soaring over 120˚F.

“I’ve never felt sun like that,” said Matt, “I felt like an ant under a magnifying glass. But even on the worst day, my single kidney did its job. It didn’t hold me back.”

The Namib Race was the first race in Matt’s 1K4D (One Kidney, Four Deserts) challenge, his attempt to become the first living kidney donor to earn a “Grand Slam”—completing the full 4 Deserts series in a single year. Only 78 people have finished all four races in one year, and Matt would be the first living kidney donor to earn the honor.

“Congratulations to Matt on his amazing accomplishment,” said Garet Hil, Founder and CEO of the National Kidney Registry. “In addition to the crushing exertion of running more than 145 miles over the course of seven days, there is no greater test of the kidneys than doing so in extreme heat conditions. The fact that Matt, with a single kidney, was able to finish ahead of 29 other people with two working kidneys, in addition to one participant who withdrew from the race because his kidneys temporarily stopped working, is a testament to just how much living kidney donor athletes can accomplish.”

Matt donated one of his kidneys to a stranger in September 2021, starting a donation chain that eventually helped seven people get living donor kidney transplants. With his 1K4D challenge, Matt aims to shatter the misperception that kidney donation imposes physical limits on donors.

“I’m not Superman,” wrote Matt in his first blog post about the 1K4D challenge. “I’m below-average height, below-average weight. Nobody has ever thought of me as physically superior in any way. So why run so far, for so long, across such empty terrain? Because I believe it only takes one. One person to change a life, one person to change the way people think. Kidney donors know what I mean.”

After heading home to Colorado, Matt will begin training for the next race in the Racing the Planet series, which will take place June 19–25 and cover 155 miles across the Southern Caucasus Mountain Range in Georgia.

For more information on Matt, visit his page on the Donor Games website and his 1K4D blog. Visit the Racing the Planet website to see full results for the Namib Race and more information on the 4 Deserts Series.

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