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20 January 2023

BHA Diversity & Inclusion Project Manager tackles ‘toughest footrace on earth’

As New Year resolutions go, tackling the toughest foot race on earth – the Marathon des Sables over 250km – would not be top of everyone’s list. Di Farrell-Thomas, Diversity & Inclusion Project Manager at the BHA explains her motivation behind this epic challenge.

My role working in Diversity and Inclusion and looking to complete the ‘toughest footrace on earth’ have many things in common. Small steps can result in massive achievements and the route is certainly not going to be easy. It is a journey where you must keep pushing forward, but by no-means alone.

One of many training days, but hotter days are to come

Competing for fun just got a little more serious

I have for many years competed in and enjoyed a variety of sports, including hockey, triathlon, equestrian events as well as gym training. The wonderful experiences and folk I have met through these activities has meant far more than goals, fast times and medals ever could.

Having said that, I was fortunate to gain selection for the Duathlon European Championships at Masters Age Group level in 2019. My race in Romania was by no means an elite performance and it made me consider my motivations and ambitions going forward.

Like many others, the love of running and the freedom to explore has always given me immense satisfaction, and at times has provided the perfect opportunity to brainstorm, de-stress and to maintain good health.

So, 2020 was the year I decided to focus on running and there was one race that I had seen that had stood out to me as one I could not even contemplate the level of extremities. How would I react to the heat of the Sahara Desert, the sand, the jebel mountains, the dangerous wildlife, carrying rationed food and water for the week, sleeping under the stars, 254km approx. of running? The mystery and level of challenge got me hooked. I committed and signed up to run the Marathon des Sables (MDS).

Sport for all really matters

Around this time I had also become a Diversity in Racing Steering Group (DiRSG) member. My experiences particularly playing and working in the wider sports industry had instilled a passion to make sure anyone can have equal opportunity in an equitable environment of any sporting arena. This should be regardless of identity, personal situation, or characteristic.

Horseracing was then, and to a certain extent still is at the very start of the journey towards achieving those beliefs above. There are many people working towards this behind the scenes and there are still others who do not yet recognise that there is still work to do in this area.

I accepted the opportunity of taking on the role of Diversity and Inclusion Project Manager for the BHA in July 2022. My role involves working with the organisations who have signed the Diversity and Inclusion Industry Commitment to build internal and external policy, processes and actions that will contribute to greater inclusion. Aside from this, I also manage and support on research and campaigns such as ‘All in The Race’, with the focus on Black History Month last October, and increasing greater ethnic diversity in horse racing. Priorities for the coming year have been outlined by the DiRSG in the 2022 Annual Update, which is hoped to align one and all in racing.

Work, run, repeat

Around my working responsibilities I spend many hours training towards the challenge of the endless sand dunes – some weeks running up to 100km or more. I have a coach called Rory Coleman who has done the race a staggering 15 times! He writes my training plans and is on hand to give me insider tips about kit, strategy and all-round essential prep.

Sadly, my dad ‘Taffy’ (who was a former professional flat jockey) died in early 2022. He received incredible end of life care from Arthur Rank Hospice – a place that allowed us to say final goodbyes to him in a calm, comforting environment. For me, the strength that the hospice staff show every day far out-weights what I will try to exhibit in the desert. I shall be forever grateful to them for their compassion and care and therefore decided to dedicate my challenge to them and my dad to raise as much funding as possible through donations to my JustGiving page: Diana Farrell-Thomas is fundraising for Arthur Rank Hospice Charity ( Any donations would ensure other families have the chance to make every moment count too.

Life challenges come in all forms; some are chosen, and some are most definitely not. Common denominators of overcoming or dealing with both are understanding, support and resilience. Sport has the power to change lives and this by no means neglects the experience in horseracing. I will put my best foot forward in achieving my ambition of successfully completing the MDS but also in building a more inclusive and diverse sport.

Photo credits – John Hoy

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