Grit and sand: appeal launched to complete inspirational documentary

Old Elizabethan Jonathan Ho has launched a campaign to raise £35,000 to finish an inspirational documentary about his School friend Johan Byran’s quest to complete one of the world’s most gruelling physical challenges.

Johan Byran (OE 1997–2004, pictured left), who is a GP, was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 18 yet has completed 23 marathons, despite the pain caused by his condition. Now he is aiming to tackle the race billed as the toughest of them all – the 250km Marathon des Sables (Marathon of the Sands) in the Sahara Desert.

""Jonathan (Johnny, pictured right), who was Johan’s QE contemporary, is making the documentary, entitled Grit, in which Johan’s story will intertwine with that of other rheumatoid arthritis sufferers. He has been working on it for the past year and, to date, the work has been entirely self-funded. Now, however, Johan has published a promotional video in an attempt to use crowdfunding to raise the £35,000 needed to take a team out to Africa to complete filming for the documentary.

“Our aim in this project is to empower and give hope to those who suffer from chronic mental and physical health conditions,” says Johnny. “I want to know what drives Johan when he is in so much pain and his body is saying ‘no’.”

The promotional video features not only Johan, but also his wife, Sheena, brother, Daniel and friends. It explains that the Marathon des Sables is a six-day race in which competitors must carry everything they need on their back. This year’s event takes place in April.

""“Do I think I will finish? I don’t know, but I do know it will hurt, I do know I will endure and I will not stop,” Johan tells the camera.

Johan traces his own love of running back to well before he received his diagnosis, when he used to watch QE teacher Colin Price (now the Second Master) in training for marathons. In the promotional video he reflects not only on the physical pain caused by his condition, but also on the emotional challenges it has posed.

After QE, Johan studied Medicine at UCL and now practices as a GP in Enfield. He also works in palliative medicine at St Francis Hospice near Romford in Essex.

""Johnny went on to study at London College of Fashion for a year then to Kent Institute of Art and Design (now known as UCA Rochester), where he gained a degree in Photography. He has since: made a number of music videos for acts including Rudimental; filmed fashion shoots for top names such as Victoria Beckham; shot corporate videos for blue chips like Marks & Spencer and Ernst & Young, and made short films and documentaries on varied subjects.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in multiple joints. Diagnosis is most common after the age of 40 and it affects women two-and-half-times as often as men.

Through the making of Grit, Johnny and Johan hope to help charities such as Arthritis Research UK.

The video concludes with an appeal: “If this is a story you would love to watch, please share, donate or help in any way you can.”
To watch the promotional video and support the making of the documentary, go to