I was apart from my four children (ages 6 to 13) for that entire summer and now my youngest child is only two months away from turning 17. He, and my three adult children, make me realize just how much has changed in the past 10 years. I did that coast-to-coast run to keep a promise I had made to some elementary children in Montana, and now my eldest daughter is an elementary teacher. Yes, a lot has changed since I ran into the Atlantic Ocean 10 years ago today.
Here are some of the words that I wrote the day that I finished my run across America on October 20, 2006:
What many thought was impossible for me to achieve has now been completed. This run across America is an accomplishment that I will always have. It is the pinnacle of my running career and was done for a positive reason -- to promote youth fitness through a promise I made to some fantastic students at Russell Elementary in Missoula, Montana. While the waves crashed over my legs today I felt waves of satisfaction flowing through me. I can't truly describe everything I'm feeling right now, but I can tell you that I have a tremendous sense of joy within me.
A couple of weeks after completing my run across America in 2006, I wrote the following words -- which sum up my feelings about that run between the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean:
I went into the trek truly believing that I could accomplish it. I don't think that you can take on something like this unless you are fully committed to it and actually believe that you can complete it. Since my failed attempt to run across the country 20 years ago (in 1986), I've had to endure comments such as "You're crazy!"; "You'll never make it!"; "That's impossible!", and similar reactions. Even while on the trek this summer I was regularly hit with such comments, as well as having to endure occasional actions -- such as being forced off the road purposefully by drivers; having things thrown at me; and, being spit upon. Many people would not take a moment out of their day to try and understand what I was aiming to accomplish and why I was putting myself through this incredibly difficult task.
As is always the case, there are two sides to a story. I also met people who were willing to assist a complete stranger in fulfilling a promise... and realizing his dream of crossing the continent. People across America reached out to me with open hearts and open homes. They picked me up off the road at the end of a long day, and provided a place to shower, be fed, and sleep -- returning me to the road the next day. People went out of their way to help me succeed in this journey, and I honestly would not have made it to the Delaware coast without them. With each passing state I got a more clear picture of the heart in America's "heartland". Not everyone who took me in for an evening entirely understood this slim, tanned distance runner from Montana. However, the ones who took the time to help me were not judgmental and truly accommodated me in order to set me up for success. I'm truly in awe of the people I met along the route.
Several things came out of the run. First and foremost, I kept my promise to the Russell Elementary students. I also fulfilled a lifetime running dream and pushed myself beyond what I ever imagined I could endure. I grew closer to the Lord and gained a deeper appreciation for loved ones and the life I've been given. It's not possible to genuinely spend time with someone who is homeless beneath a highway overpass and not realize the blessings in your own life. To look into the eyes of a drifter -- who is hitchhiking his way to an unknown destination -- is to know that you're fortunate to have purpose and direction in life. To spend time in homes where unity is nonexistent, and where happiness seems to be as chipped and worn as the leaning picket fence outside, is to know that you can reflect unity and happiness in your own life in hopes of creating a ripple effect in this world. And that's really what this is about... a ripple effect. My 3,260-mile run across America should not be the end. Hopefully, there will be a ripple effect by those who were touched by the journey. That's my hope. Whether it be someone that I met along the way whose heart was positively impacted by my trek, or someone who simply heard about it through a local media story and thought "Perhaps I should do something to make a difference." You just never know what ripple effect your actions will have in this life.
My trek across America was an experience I will always hold close to my heart. To stand under a star-filled sky at 3:00 a.m. in the plains of eastern Montana, miles from the nearest person, is something that is hard to describe. The serenity, silence and beauty truly makes you realize that there is something far greater than yourself. Regardless of your spiritual beliefs, you cannot stand in such places as I have and not feel the presence of a greater power. To be completely alone on a road stretching off to the horizon and watch the sun come up as antelope graze nearby is something that is etched in the mind and soul forever. This journey was pounded into my heart and memory with each step I took. It is a part of me forever, and no amount of written words will adequately express all that I experienced and felt during the 108 days of crossing this great country.
I've had many people suggest that I write a book about my experiences, or that I develop and market the virtual Run/Walk Across America curriculum. Time will eventually unfold the post-run activities and undertakings, but for now I am enjoying a bit more 'normality' and am readjusting to a my life in Montana. I received an e-mail today from Scott Sehon, who ran across the U.S.A. with Dave Bronfenbrenner in 2003. Scott wrote,
"I'm 3 years removed from mine, and it all seems like a dream to me now. But if I'm ever having a down day, all I have to do is think about the trip and I'm able to smile. I hope that your run will be able to do the same for you. I realize that your emotions and feelings towards your run must be very, very different than mine were and still are. You were running solo (I can't even imagine that. I'd run across the country twice with someone else before even thinking of going solo - not out of fear for my safety, but out of fear of losing my mind!), and you had kids that you were away from. That must have been very tough... as you said it was on a number of occasions. Dave and I were single guys in our 20's, with nothing pulling on our heartstrings. So, all my blessings to you for keeping your promise to the students and completing your mission. As someone told us when Dave and I finished our run in Oregon, and I will now pass on to you: "Hey, you've run across the country, and no one can ever take that away from you."I truly appreciate Scott's words... from one trans-con runner to another. The day will come when the vivid details of the run will fade a bit -- one of the pitfalls of time and aging. However, the pictures and videos I have from the trek will always be a reminder to me, and a story for my children and grandchildren to cherish in years to come.
My run across the United States is now in the books. I've accomplished my goal and stayed true to the intent and purpose of the trek. I look back on the path I've traveled with great satisfaction, knowing that my footsteps were placed for a positive (and hopefully influential) reason. I thank all of you who have encouraged me through each step, and who have showed me that the act of a kind word or deed can be an incredible driving force to success. I thank God for blessing me with the vision for this project, and the ability to see it through to completion. To each and everyone of you who helped to bring this adventure from one coast to the other, I extend my sincere and heartfelt appreciation. It has been an incredible journey and one that will forever be a part of me. Thank you for joining me through these 3,260 mileposts. What a run... the run of a lifetime.
My entire journal from the 2006 run across America can be seen here.
Keep reaching for life's mileposts!
The P.A.C.E. Fitness Foundation, Inc.
P.A.C.E. is a non-profit organization aimed at Promoting Active Children Everywhere.