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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. “Every other step I take, that’s now my new home.”

A typical day on the road begins at 7 a.m., and Fairchild says it’s “pretty boring.” His diet primarily consists of roadside fast food, and he’s learned to predict his dining options from the litter by the side of the road.

Fairchild said he has used this trip as an opportunity to meet interesting people along the way.

“The first couple questions are always almost the same and you’re wondering, ‘Oh, is this going to be the same kind of conversation,’ ” he said, “And, you know, you never know … People can surprise you sometimes.”

Fairchild recalled one incident when the cashier at Arby’s gave him a free meal when she discovered what he was doing.

“I was getting out my wallet and she was like, ‘We don’t charge heroes here,’ ” he said.

He added, “I’m not a hero, I’m just doing something anyone could do.”

When describing the people he has met, Fairchild referenced the 1994 film "Forrest Gump," in which the title character, played by Tom Hanks, spends years running back and forth across the country.

“I’m having all of Forrest Gump’s experiences along the way. It’s kind of fun,” he said.

Because Fairchild is walking more than running, he said he has found this easier than training for a marathon.

“It’s not really that strenuous, and it’s almost like something I think almost anyone can do because it’s mostly the time, it’s mostly being able to be alone for so long,” he said.

But Fairchild said the journey hasn’t always been easy — after walking 500 miles, he began to question his trip.

“I was kind of thinking, OK, why am I really doing this?” he said. “Yeah, I want to see what’s out there and maybe learn philosophy and go deep inside myself. But … I can do that somewhere else; I don’t have to be doing this.”

He said he soon realized he needed to finish the journey just to complete it.

“What am I going to do anyway?” he said. “It’s not like I can sit around my parent’s house or … get an apartment, get a job and start the whole thing over with no direction.”

But for now he’s taking it day by day. He encourages people to check out his Website at www.runsomemore.com, regardless of whether or not they contribute to his cause.

Beyond raising money for MS research, Fairchild said he doesn’t have any message he wants people to take away from this. He wants them to make up their own minds.

“I just kind of put it all out there into the world and say, wherever you are, whatever point in your life, whatever you need, maybe there’s something in there for you,” he said. “I’m just going to put this energy out there. Take whatever you need from it.”

He added, quoting from "Forrest Gump": “ ‘That’s all I have to say about that.’ ”


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