By CATHY BONNSTETTER ∙ For The State Journal
MORGANTOWN — When local resident and Burnsville native Jamie Summerlin decided to help his fellow vets, he devised a plan with lasting impact — he decided to run across America in 100 days raising awareness of and money for the plight of disabled vets with every step.
"I could have done a one-day event, but at the end of it, people would be saying, ‘What more could we do?' In 100 days, the momentum can continue to build," Summerlin said.
Summerlin, an information technology manager at Citynet and a former Marine, trained and planned for two years to make the more than 3,300-mile run from Coos County, Ore., to Annapolis, Md.
"I got into 40- and 50-mile races," he said. "A lot of the people I run with are involved with charities, and a couple of my friends had been helped by Wounded Warriors, so I thought why not make this worth something?"
Summerlin's wife, Tiffany, a dental hygienist and former Marine, managed the finances for the project. She also kept Summerlin on the road and home-schooled the couple's two children, Nicholas, 12, and Shayna, 10.
"When Jamie brought it up, I thought, this is crazy, and you'll forget about it," Tiffany Summerlin said. "It became more concrete, and I thought, it's crazy, but I'm in."
Summerlin hoped to raise half a million dollars to divide among The Wounded Warrior Project and two local projects, Vet Connect and Welcome Home. Bob Pirner, director of development for The Mylan Park Foundation, set up the 501(c)3 nonprofit for Summerlin's quest.
"Beyond that I'm one of his big cheerleaders," Pirner said. "I know that when these men and women come back they need some things."
The Summerlins' adventure began March 26 when the family took up residence in an RV and followed Jamie as he ran between 30 and 40 miles each day.
"Jamie spent about 10 minutes every hour in the camper," Tiffany Summerlin said. "It's crazy the amount of food he needed and the gallons of Gatorade."
Jamie said having his family along made the trip even more memorable.
"We were in Salt Lake City, Utah, and I got a chance to run across the Salt Flats," he said. "That evening we had dinner outside on the flats. You could see forever. To sit there with my family and have that experience is something I'll never forget."
At every opportunity, Summerlin visits Veteran Affairs hospitals or other places vets gather because he wanted to thank them. In Roseburg, Ore., he was greeted with a crowd of vets as he ran by a local VA hospital.
"Here they were clapping for me, and this is for them," he said. "I went in for about an hour and talked with the vets. Those folks are my heroes."
Forty-four days into the run, Summerlin had just crossed the Colorado line a little ahead of schedule.
"Today I passed the 1,500 mile mark," he said. "I've seen every imaginable and unimaginable type of weather, from blizzards to 99 degrees."
The biggest challenge to that time came just five days into the run. A quick change in elevation left him with a sore ankle and swollen left shin. For two days he walked.
"I was in a lot of pain," he said. "Tiffany stretched out my ankle and you could hear the adhesions popping — like milk on Rice Krispies. It hurt like the dickens. It was the only time (so far) I doubted whether I could actually do this. The next day I started out, and it felt better."
Nicholas walked three miles with his father that day and told him how amazed he was that he was running across the country.
"Right then I decided I would either run or go home," Summerlin said. "I haven't stopped running since."
The runner has kept up with his supporters on Twitter and a blog on his website. One West Virginia school even used him as a geography learning tool, initiating "Where's Jamie? Tuesdays."
This July 4, Jamie hopes to become one of the fewer than 300 people who have run across the United States, bringing two years of training and 100 days of running to a close.
"I am just a vehicle," he said. "These organizations I am supporting do greater things than I ever could, than any one person could. I want to raise awareness for the communities — let them see they can wrap their arms around these vets."