Ex-Sharjah university professor set for gruelling 4,000km run across Australia

Nick Ashill battles back from horrific injury to launch latest endurance challenge

Nick Ashill is aiming to raise awareness of respiratory disease and raise money to support research towards improving health outcomes for those affected. Photo: Nick Ashill
Powered by automated translation

A former Sharjah university professor who was seriously injured by a hit-and-run driver as he ran across the US is now taking on another mammoth endurance challenge of traversing Australia in only 70 days.

From desolate, endless wastelands and an ever-distant horizon, to days of isolation in one of the most barren environments on Earth, Nick Ashill faces a formidable task as he aims to join a select band of ultra endurance athletes.

Mr Ashill – who previously lectured at the American University of Sharjah – aims to reach Bondi Beach in Sydney by June 28, to become only the fifth person to have run the 5,400km across America and the 3,949km from Perth to Sydney.

The epic trek aims to draw attention to respiratory disease and raise money to support research towards improving health outcomes for those affected.

After 14 months of gruelling training and more than 8,000km of road running, the 59-year-old New Zealander is ready and raring to go on his next adventure as he leaves Cottesloe in Western Australia on Monday morning about 6.30am.

“After completing the American run in 2022, I was not ready to hang up my running shoes,” Mr Ashill, who lives in Wellington, told The National, 24 hours before he was due to set off.

“My preparation these past 14 months has been intense.

“I plan to run 60km each day to complete the run in around 70 days and my body is in good shape.

“The most challenging part of the run will be the 1,200km stretch of the Nullarbor Plain.

“No trees grow there, so it is very isolated and bronze and there are hundreds of kilometres between towns, but I love running in tranquillity and isolation.”

Overcoming adversity

To even arrive at the start of his ambitious run is a comeback of gargantuan proportions.

In 2017, Mr Ashill was left for dead by a hit-and-run driver in Columbus, Ohio, and endured a difficult return to health after his pelvis was shattered and he required a number of blood transfusions.

Learning to walk again was his primary goal but 16 operations later he put on his running shoes once more to complete his trans-American run in 2022.

With another remarkable personal record now in his sights, Mr Ashill said the focus was on the road ahead, one step at a time.

“I want to prove to myself that I can complete another cross-country run, but more importantly, I want people to know about the course I am running for,” he said.

“What drives me is a yearning to help others with respiratory illness.

“The memory of my mum and the fight she endured every day to breathe is a constant reminder of the importance of the New Zealand Asthma and Respiratory Foundation's work.

“I will burn between 5,000 and 7,000 calories each day. So getting my nutrition right is critically important.”

Mountains of sweet potato, eggs, cheese, oat milk, chia seeds, avocado, broccoli, blueberries, bananas and bacon will make up most of his daily diet.

Support crew

He will be accompanied by an experienced support team to ensure his safety throughout the run.

He will be joined by Paul Wheeler, who ran across the US with Mr Ashill, and two other support crew members – Jamie Thomson, head of IT for New Zealand company Comfortech – and Mehmet Domez, an ultrarunner and professional chef.

Ultra-distance running is undergoing a moment in the spotlight, after the recent exploits of self-proclaimed 'Hardest Geezer’ Russ Cook, who became the first man to run the western route of the length Africa, from South Africa to Tunisia.

It took the Briton 352 days to complete his challenge, running 385 marathons back-to-back – a feat well noted as an inspiration for Mr Ashill.

“What a legend he is and an amazing achievement,” said Mr Ashill.

“Running across Africa is probably not something I would do but I like the idea of running from the top of Alaska to the bottom of South America. Let's see how the body is after Australia.”

To follow his progress or support his challenge, visit www.nickrunsaustralia.org.nz

Updated: April 18, 2024, 4:40 AM