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University alum traverses country to raise money for multiple sclerosis

BY A. BRAD SCHWARTZ
Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 20, 2009

University alum Joe Fairchild arrived in Ann Arbor last Tuesday for what could have been a simple four-day visit. Only, rather than arriving by car, bus or Amtrak train, Fairchild walked into town pushing the modified baby stroller he’s been living out of since early August.

Fairchild’s stop in Ann Arbor was a brief respite from his months-long journey across the United States, a fundraising effort to raise money for multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that attacks the central nervous system.

A graduate of the class of 2006, Fairchild started to seriously pursue running when he came to college, inspired by his younger brother, who was then running track in high school.

Last May, having not run seriously for some time, Fairchild realized he needed to challenge himself and soon called his brother.

“(My brother) was talking about training for another (marathon),” Fairchild said, “and he said, ‘We should run across the country or something like that,’ almost as a joke.”

The more Fairchild thought about the idea, he said, the more it made sense and the more possible it seemed.

Rather than renewing the lease on his Chicago apartment or actively hunting for a new job, Fairchild decided to start planning his run across the country.

“Everything just kind of lined up,” he said.

Fairchild also said he saw this as an opportunity to raise money for MS, drawing inspiration from a friend who has suffered from the disease for years.

With the goal of raising $25,000 for MS research, Fairchild soon started making plans for the 3,400-mile trip. Figuring that he could travel about 30-35 miles per day, he estimated the trip would take him about four to five months, starting in August and ending in mid-December.

“I really didn’t do any training for it, or anything like that,” he said. “I can run if I want or walk if I want. I’m not really bound by a lot.”

Fairchild mapped out a route from Boston to Ann Arbor, and then to Chicago where he would take Route 66 to Los Angeles.

When he first started his journey, Fairchild just used a compass pointing west, but now he uses Google Maps to plan his route.

“Most of the planning I do now on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “I know where I’m stopping almost every day, but there’s still the adventure of ‘who knows what’s going to happen?’ ”

Fairchild walks along the side of the highway, pushing the modified stroller with just the essentials — water bottles, energy bars, a tent and sleeping bag, a camera, a couple of books and a laptop to blog his progress.

“That was one of the things I started thinking about … What if I had nothing?” he said. “What if I really gave it up and all I had was the stuff I carried with me on the road? I’d still have pretty much everything.”

Fairchild considers his current address as wherever he’s sleeping on a given night, and his home as the road. When asked by a passing driver if he needed a ride home, he said he wasn’t sure how to answer the question.

“I kind of realized, well, right here, I am home,” he said.