A Virginia athlete recently completed a cross-country, fundraising run with the aim to help others get access to clean water around the world.
Michael Wardian, of Arlington, Virginia, started at City Hall in San Francisco, California, on May 1, 2022. He ended his trip about 62 days later in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, after running an average of 52 miles a day — roughly the distance of two marathons a day.
Wardian said he first got the spark while watching the movie “Forest Gump” and has been talking about a cross-country run for about 20 years. He cemented the decision to make this dream a reality after an injury made him wonder if he’d run again.
He said the problem turned out to be the fact that “ … I herniated two discs in my lower back,” adding that he worked with the team at MedStar Health.
“I was able to do a lot of physical therapy and some treatment to get that in place and avoid back surgery, which I was really happy about,” Wardian said.
Wardian surpassed his goal of raising $100,000 for World Vision’s Clean Water and donations are still coming, Wardian said. At least $111,000 have been raised so far.
“I feel very fortunate to have the gift of running, and I figured if I can make it more (than) about just me, and help other people along the way, then I wanted to do that,” Wardian said.
It’s a mixture of wanting to help others and wanting to push his personal limits.
“This really scared me and was something that was super audacious and kind of outside of what I thought I could do, so I wanted to see if I can do it,” Wardian said.
There was a lot of prep he had to do, and a lot of it falls in line with previous prep work he’s done as a long-distance runner, including “lots of runs back to back, lots of long adventures, and then kind of getting the skill set in place, like how to deal with blisters, how to deal with chafing, how much water do you actually need, how to deal with heat,” Wardian said.
He took a couple of trips to help him prepare for the heat and altitude that he would face during his cross-country run.
“In March, I did a race in Sri Lanka called the Ultra X Sri Lanka, where I ran 250 kilometers in 100-degree temperatures with 90% humidity … And then my family and I did a trip to the Galápagos Islands, with a stopover in Quito, Ecuador, where I could get to about 13,000 feet, so that I’d be above the highest point that I would face on the on the journey, which was Monarch Pass (Colorado) at 11,312 feet,” Wardian said.
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His goal was for him and his team to be as self-sufficient as possible, so they got a recreational vehicle and packed it with items, such as pickles, canned food, bags of pasta and cases of his favorite nut butter.
In addition to working out the logistics of the trip itself, Wardian had to work out similar details at home with his wife, Jennifer, and his partner at Potomac Maritime LLC, the international ship brokerage he co-owns with Keith Powell.
Wardian said they hired someone to cover for him and handle collaboration with groups offering humanitarian food aid shipments around the world while he was away for two months.
Home logistics included figuring out who would help Jennifer get their children to school, after-school activities and other necessities Wardian would normally help to keep the homefront running smoothly.
As for the cross-country run, there were plenty of other things to take into consideration, too.
“How far do you want to run each day and (how many) roads do you want to run on? Are they good roads or bad roads? How many cars and trucks are you going to see? Are the people going to be nice? Are they going to try to run you off the road or throw hamburgers at you,” Wardian said.
Wait, what? Yep, it happened to him on a leg of his cross-country run.
“Somebody in Chillicothe, Ohio, threw a hamburger at the group of runners I was with … It missed me and hit the girl I was running with right in the chest,” Wardian said. “Half-eaten hamburger.”
But there were plenty of positive moments.
“For every one bad person, there were probably 10 or 15 great people who stopped their car when it was hot and tried to offer us snacks,” Wardian said. Some even tried offering them rides, but they turned those down.
And there were heartwarming moments, too, like the stray dog Wardian nicknamed “Yellow,” which emerged from the woods in Missouri and ran 40 miles with their group.
A runner named Rod, who joined them in Missouri, ended up taking the dog home with him, and “pulled 40 ticks off him, took him to the vet, got him all cleaned up and ended up getting him adopted out to his neighbor who had just lost their lab,” Wardian said.
“It was just one of those Hallmark movies-type things,” Wardian said.
“Now Yellow’s name is Miles. He has a forever home, and it really helped the other family out, too, because they had two labs and the one lab just died, and the Lab that was left was super lonely … Yeah, it makes me so happy that happened.”