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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