Every so often, a really unique and interesting opportunity comes along, and no matter what, you just have to take advantage of it.
Most recently, that opportunity came in the form of Ernest Andrus, a retired Navy veteran, who had committed to running across the United States in order to raise funds for the LST 325 Ship Memorial. On October 7, 2013, then 90-year-old Andrus started his journey by touching the Pacific Ocean near San Diego, California. Ernie then proceeded to make his way across America, running three days a week, traveling alone in an RV, sometimes being going by a group and sometimes logging his miles completely alone.
Did I mention that this man is in his nineties???
One of my running coaches, Stacey, made me aware of Ernie’s journey and progress, pointing out that his last legs were going to be about 90 minutes away from us, in St. Simons Island, Georgia. She had every intention of being on hand for the final leg scheduled for August 20, and I was totally on board with joining her. As the date approached, she got in touch with me to ask if I would be up for going on Thursday, August 18 instead. It would work out better with her schedule, and I was able to pull some strings to make it happen.
We left Thursday morning at 4:00 AM. The drive was fairly easy, even if it was dark and absurdly early. We were both really excited to get to our destination and meet Ernie: the plan was to park the car at the Morningstar Marinas, the designated finish point, and then shuttle to the start line. Per the GPS map, it looked like a straightaway from Point A to Point B, and we tossed around the idea of running to the start line, just to get in some extra miles before Ernie’s group run.
Driving the route changed our minds pretty quickly – it was still pitch black, and there were two bridges with somewhat narrow shoulders and no barriers to separate pedestrians from traffic. Maybe if we were more familiar with the area we would have braved it, but neither one of us felt comfortable taking the risk.
A nice group had gathered at the Marina, and we were able to say hi to Ernie for the first time, as well as meet some of the people who would be walking that day. Ernie was already bright eyed and bushy-tailed. He had been driving the route, setting up the starting point and was handing out waivers and collecting names to those who were waiting. We were all pretty anxious to get started, and Stacey volunteered to drive some people to the start.
Introductions were made, American flags distributed, pictures snapped and conversation flowed in the early morning darkness.
We didn’t have to wait long before the police escort arrived and we were ready to get underway into the rising sun.
This penultimate leg was estimated to be about 3.72 miles. Approximately 40 supporters settled in around Ernie, whose pace averages 22:39 per mile.
It was a beautiful morning. The company was phenomenal, as was the view. We chatted with some of the other people on the route, and were completely blown away by how far people had traveled to be part of this event.
And Ernie, for his part, just put his head down and pushed. He never broke pace and never slowed.
In fact, the only time he showed any signs of exhaustion was when he passed the “finishing point” and was promptly escorted to a chair in the shade.
Ernie graciously posed for more photos and held more conversations. He was an absolute delight.
And I’m sure he was so thrilled to have so many family members, friends and fans around him as he neared his final goal.
We hitched a ride back to our car and then we made our way to a nearby church, where finisher shirts were being sold. I was a little superstitious and didn’t wear mine until after Ernie had completed his final run on Saturday, August 20, a day after his 93rd birthday, by touching the Atlantic Ocean.
And now? Ernie is taking a well-deserved break. By which I mean he’s driving his motorhome to Alaska.
Safe travels, sir. You are truly an inspiration, and I can’t thank you enough for the memories.
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Stacie Seidman says
What an awesome guy! So exciting you were able to be a part of that! I hope to be 1/2 as spry as he at 90!
Stacie Seidman recently posted…Truthful Tuesday
It was really something else. You know, we limit ourselves so much – I’m too old for this or that. But really, all you need is a goal. I mean, when his sons-in-law told us that he had done much of the trip in a motorhome on his own, my jaw hit the floor. I can’t imagine! Motorhomes are no joke to drive! All the respect in the world to Ernie. It was worth it to be a part of it.
AWESOMESAUCE. That’s all 🙂
San recently posted…August Favorites
Oh my goodness, this is so awesome!! I read about him when was running along the coast of Mississippi (close to where I live) and thought how wonderful it would be to have been there to run with him! What an incredible experience for you and the others! I sure hope I’m still able to run, even a 22 minute mile, at the age of 90!! Thanks for sharing!
I ran with him when he made his way through Tallahassee. Our group was small and our run was long, so I had hours to chat with him. It is one of the most enriching experiences of my life. I’m so happy you were able to join him!
Awwww, he is so cute! That is great he had such a nice little crowd to go with.
The photo with the police escort and the sky and the sunrise is so good!
I am so glad Ernie touched the Atlantic! That is inspiring 😉
Wendy@Taking the Long Way Home says
What a moving experience! Glad you got to participate.
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Debbie @ Coach Debbie Runs says
What an inspirational story! Ernie sounds like a pretty cool guy. I can only hope that I have his spirit (and strong legs) when I’m in my 90s!
Debbie @ Coach Debbie Runs recently posted…The Art (and some science) of the Marathon Taper
Seriously one of the most inspirational things I have read. Super cool that you go to run along a bit. I love this.
Aww this is so SO cool! What a fantastic experience.
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Tricia Vaughn says
How completely awesome everything about this post is! How very lucky you are to have been part of it Jenn! I am so glad you shared it with us!
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Ange // Cowgirl Runs says
I remember reading about his journey, how cool you were able to run with him!
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Deborah @ Confessions of a mother runner says
Wow that’s cool! I had not heard of Ernie. How amazing is he? So fun that you got to be a part of his journey too
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Mary Beth Jackson says
This is a fantastic story and I am so happy you were a part of it! Kudos to you and Ernie rocks!
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Lex @ Flecksoflex says
What an amazing story! I hope Ernie was able to hit his fundraising goal after all of that hard work!
Abby @BackatSquareZero says
What an absolutely awesome and unique experience.
It was fantastic. I’m so grateful I got to be there.
I love that people are still running with him in Alaska. I didn’t get a chance to go for the final leg, but I did watch it live on Facebook. It was pretty incredible.
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He touched so many people. It’s a beautiful thing.