Logo for: National Kidney Registry

Am I Crazy? A Regular Guy’s Exceptional Journey

Matt Cavanaugh

I’m not Superman. Below-average height, below-average weight. Nobody has ever thought of me as physically superior in any way.

So why do I think I can run 1,000 kilometers, self-supported—the equivalent of carrying a toddler on my back—in four of the world’s toughest running races, just months after donating my left kidney?

Am I crazy?

I’m not a gambler. Far from a thrill-seeker. I don’t take things to the edge.

Except for this.

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.

My Kidney Donation Experience

My own experience post-donation has been nothing short of amazing. I gave my left kidney on September 15, 2021, to a stranger in Seattle. I was standing up within hours after the surgery was complete. The next day, I was discharged and walked out of the hospital.

For several weeks, I power-walked, and by day 27 I was up to a jog. I’ve recently crossed the 100-day mark, and I’m back to 100 percent me, pre-donation me—running, carrying my kids, and skiing, just like before.

Kidney donation is typically all about what gets taken out of the body, physically. But there’s another side to the process. What often gets missed is what’s put into the donor’s soul, spiritually.

This sense of warmth, the sense of gratitude, the sense of fulfillment, the sure knowledge that my life may never have mattered to another person as much as it does right now.

The Race of a Lifetime

If 1K4D—“one kidney, 4 deserts”—has a mission, it’s to inspire others and demonstrate that it only takes one.

It only takes one to run the Namib. To run mountains in Georgia. To run across Atacama. To run the “White Desert,” the “Last Desert,” Antarctica.

If I’m honest, I can tell you I’m scared. As I write this in January 2022, I have no idea what’s to come. I can think of a million ways this may fail.

One missed flight, one upset stomach, one wrong step, one bad injury, and I won’t make it. So, yeah, I’m worried. More than a little. I’ll be alone on the course for hours and hours and hours, every day, for an entire month this year. No spectators. It will be just me and my pack and my thoughts, all alone in the Big Empty.

Then there’s my body’s new operating system.

What if my one kidney can’t process what I need to stay hydrated? What if my one kidney can’t withstand such high, and such low, temperatures? What happens if I get almost all the way through this thing and my body shuts down before I cross the finish line? Will this entire year be a waste? Will I have failed? What if? What if? What if?

It Only Takes One

Or maybe.

Maybe one person reads these words and says, Hey, maybe I could do that. Maybe one news outlet picks up a story about 1K4D and decides it’s worth a segment, and that segment catches the attention of two people who then consider donation.

Maybe one day 1K4D becomes the new Bucket Challenge, because some celebrity like Prince Harry or Taylor Swift hears about some crazy guy running deserts, and decides, heck, I don’t know, I can donate too, I don’t need this extra kidney, and in one shot the publicity brings about half the donations our country needs to empty the waitlist.

Maybe I can risk my fears to attain my dreams. Face the downside for a shot at the upside.

“The greatest pleasure in life,” wrote Walter Bagehot, “is doing what people say you cannot do.” I think that’s true, even if those “people” sometimes include yourself.

Follow My Journey

I’ll write about my progress here on a weekly basis. Mostly about how I’m doing physically, mentally, and logistically, because undertaking something like this is equal parts preparation and execution. (Not unlike kidney donation itself.)

My goal is to bring you along for the ride. The highs, the lows, the ugly parts, and the really ugly parts. I can’t take you with me, but as much as possible I’d like to pull every reader a little closer—to feel your presence, because I know I won’t let myself give up if I can feel that, even from a distance.

You may have guessed by now, but if there’s a 1K4D motto, it’s it only takes one. If that sounds familiar, it’s because I tweaked it a little from an expression attributed to John F. Kennedy (though it was more likely his wife Jackie’s phrase): “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.”

Here I go, trying.

To learn more about Matt and his 1K4D journey, please visit 1K4D.org.