August 28, 2019|In News, Travel

The Race of a Lifetime

Our Promotions Coordinator Lucille Antoine shares her story about fighting for cause very close to her heart

Earlier this year Dhall & Nash gave me the opportunity to take a few months off work to prepare for the most amazing experience of my life – participating in the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles!

This rally is an off-road race, 100% feminine, in the middle of the Moroccan Sahara Desert, with only a map and a compass to work out where you are. Crazy, right?
That’s exactly what my family and friends thought when I told them about my ambitious project, but I had to do it! This rally is very popular in Europe and is covered by a lot of national TV news stations. The race itself promotes awareness of many social and environmental issues within Morocco and also encourages its participants to support a cause of their own as well, so I saw an opportunity to talk about a subject that is near and dear to my own heart: bone marrow transplants.

In February 2015, while I was enjoying my au pair life in New York, my life suddenly turned upside down when I got sick and discovered that my sore throat was just the first symptom of something bigger… After a blood test and a never-ending waiting time, the doctor diagnosed me with leukemia. What a shock; I was only 22 years old!

Leukemia is a blood cancer and your bone marrow is the part of your body that creates your blood cells before releasing them in your blood. When you have leukemia your bone marrow is too lazy to finish the job and releases unfinished cells called ‘blasts’. Bit by bit your good cells (platelet, white & red cells) are replaced by these blasts in your blood. Without normal blood, your organs will not survive for long and your immunity system deteriorates, so you become an easy target for all kinds of diseases and infections. Basically, a small cut can turn into a haemorrhage, a headache can be the start of a stroke and a simple sore throat can be lethal!

Four days after the diagnosis I was back in France, with all the support I needed from my family and friends to start the battle of my life. The chemotherapy was effective, but the doctors wanted me to receive a bone marrow transplantation to secure my remission. However, among the people on the donor list from all around the world, not one of them was the right match for me. This was due to a low number of donors, mainly because people aren’t even aware that they can donate their bone marrow and how to do it.

To give your bone marrow you have to be alive (different from organs donation program) and subscribe to the donor list ( They will first take your blood to register your tissue type, then if one day you have the chance to be compatible with someone, they will ask you if you are still willing to be a donor. If you are, they will collect a small portion of your blood stem cells which grow inside your bone marrow. After that, your bone marrow will regenerate in approximately five days, and it’s quite possible you will have saved a life!

Despite the transplant that I didn’t receive, after a few months of chemotherapy and fighting I finally made it! My time at the hospital was done for good! Sadly, one of my friends I met at the hospital during my time wasn’t as lucky. That’s why I know how important it is to educate people about bone marrow transplants.

The Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles

The Aïcha des Gazelles rally lasted 9 days. I woke up every day at 5:30am to start the race at 7am and then returned around 7pm. The days were very long and exhausting but the landscapes and adrenaline we got to experience during this time was definitely worth the effort.

The goal of the race was not to be the fastest but to reach multiple checkpoints while travelling as little kilometres as possible. To do this we sometimes had to make strategic and challenging choices. Should we take the easy way and bypass the mountain or should we risk it and just cross through? We never took the easy way. After all, we realised we would probably only experience this once in our life – it was now or never to push our limits! Because of this, it was often these crazy choices that brought us to unbelievable situations. From the gigantic dunes of Merzouga to the mountains of Errachidia, we pushed our car to its limits (and almost upside down. Twice.). But at the end of the day we always came back to the camp with memorable souvenirs.

Of course, because of the stress, adrenaline and fatigue, it wasn’t always peaceful between my teammate and I. Especially when I assured her that there was a path between the top of two mountains… oops, my bad! The “path” sloped straight down and was very slippery because of the little rocks rolling under our wheels. It was impossible to reverse, and our only choice was to try to go down without seeing what was below us. The larger parts of the path were barely wider than the car itself and the path wasn’t flat, but instead full of big rocks. We were surrounded by walls of rocks. I couldn’t open the door, so I had to get out of the car from the roof window to direct my teammate, without breaking the car or puncturing a tyre on the sharp rocks. I had to guide her centimetre by centimetre and sometimes remove the big rocks myself. My back didn’t thank me after that!

It was never-ending, I was already thinking about calling for help – in my mind the only way to get out was with the help of a helicopter. So when we finally saw the end it was such a relief, it almost brought me to tears. OK, to be very honest, we were totally in tears. I think it was one of the most stressful situations of my life! But we made it and we continued to make it until the end of the race.

We were so proud when we passed the finish line and thinking about everything we had just accomplished was so rewarding. Our race position wasn’t so bad for beginners either because we finished 6th out of 98 teams!

All our efforts were worth it. The interviews during the race let us promote the bone marrow transplantation and before we left to go back home, we got such positive feedback. Many people signed up to the bone marrow donor list because of us. That was the best reward of this whole adventure!

I would like to give a special thank you Champagne Egly-Ouriet and Champagne Bouby Legouge for their support and sponsorship, and Dhall & Nash for giving me the time and support to pursue this amazing experience. We couldn’t have made it without you guys!

– Lucille Antoine