I'll never forget the emotions I experienced on June 22, 2006 -- fourteen years ago today. My eldest child, Jenna, was turning 13... becoming a teenager. And, the very next day I would begin my 3,260-mile solo run across the United States from coast to coast. Today, Jenna is 27 years old and I hope that she has a wonderful birthday. She's an elementary school teacher and high school volleyball coach and lives over 500 miles away from me. We don't see each other as often these days. In fact, I haven't seen Jenna for 8 months and there's no plans on the horizon for us to spend time together. With careers and often chaotic schedules keeping us on the run, it has certainly become more challenging to find moments to spend together. However, we do keep in frequent contact and I'm so happy for all that she has going on in her life.
Getting back to her 13th birthday, we were at Cannon Beach, Oregon where I would begin my 15-state U.S. run. Jenna was incredibly supportive of the endeavor and as her Dad it was certainly difficult to begin that run the day following her birthday. I had just become the father of a teenager and was about to embark on the season of life of having a teenage daughter. We celebrated her 13th birthday and then prepared to say our goodbyes. I remember holding her in my arms and being so thankful for the blessings of Dadhood. Yes, my eyes welled up as I came to the realization that my little girl was growing up. My eyes welled even more when I got my last glimpse of her as I ran down the coastal highway that June 23 morning back in 2006. I recall saying a prayer for all four of my children, and then I just kept reaching for the horizon for 108 days on the road.
When I was about four weeks into my cross country run, Jenna wrote these words to me: "Hi Dad! I just want to start this out by saying how proud I am of you!!! You are a role model to many kids and adults... How many people can say they ran across the United States pushing a stroller!! Not many! I am probably the luckiest girl on the planet. I have a great dad who is proving to the world that he keeps his promises. I really look up to you dad. I have missed you but support you, and always will. I will continue to pray for you and encourage you. Whenever you are having a hard day just know that I am praying for you! I love you and am extremely proud of you!! I will cherish this event forever if you make it or not, but I know you will!!! Good luck!! I love you!! Hugs and kisses."
Even reading those words again brings tears to my eyes -- as was the case when I read them for the first time in July 2006. I remember feeling so proud to be her Dad and wanting to do my very best to succeed. I wanted all of my children to be proud of their Dad and to see me as a positive role model. Yes, it was incredibly hard to be away from Jenna -- and all of my children -- during the summer of 2006. I knew I would never get that time with them back and was determined to succeed so that the time lost with them wouldn't be in vain.
It has now been 14 years since Jenna blew out 13 candles and I laced up my shoes to run toward the horizon. So much has occurred in our lives since then. In many ways, life is so incredibly different. Yet, the love I have for Jenna has grown as I've watched her blaze a path as an adult. We both have made decisions on life's road that we know in our hearts were the best for us, and to curb criticism or judgment of those decisions is something that we both benefit from. Jenna will always be my little girl, but I know that to the world she is viewed as a strong woman of principles and faith -- and I couldn't be more proud.