REHOBOTH BEACH, Del. – A West Virginia native had a dream to run all the way across America, and at 6 a.m. on Friday, July 1 in Rehoboth Beach, Del. he achieved that goal.
Michael Wardian, known as “The Real Life Forrest Gump,” recently completed his dream of running across the country. He started that mission on May 1 in San Francisco, Calif., traveling 3,234 miles across Route 50 and going through 13 states.
12 News reporter Joe Lint reached out to Michael Wardian via Zoom call to hear about his journey across America.
Note: These questions are from two separate interviews with Wardian, one when he passed through West Virginia, and one when he finished the run in Delaware, which accounts for the conflicting dates within the questions and answers.
Q: Why run across America?
A: It has been a lifelong dream of mine, and I thought it would be a good way to raise awareness for clean water. I have been wanting to do it my entire career, I have been a runner since 1996 and it has taken this long to get to the point where I felt comfortable to try to make this adventure come together.
Q: What is your inspiration to run across America?
A: I run across America to raise money for World Vision with a goal to raise $100,000 for clean water projects. I love the fact that we can raise awareness for World Vision and what they are doing to help people get clean water around the world.
Q: Does a little bit of inspiration come from ‘Forrest Gump’ the movie?
A: Yeah that’s exactly when I knew you could do something like this. When I saw Forrest Gump that’s when it really crystallized in my head that hey this is something I wanted to do,and a lot of people think I look like Forrest Gump. So that’s another funny coincidence, but yeah, it is something that definitely inspired me and I hope my journey can inspire other people.
Q: So, you were born in the State of West Virginia?
A: Yeah I was born in Morgantown, West Virginia, grew up until fourth grade in Fairmont, West Virginia. So, crossing the state line yesterday was a big deal to me, and I’m looking forward to spending a couple of days in West Virginia and getting to my current home state Virginia, hopefully by Sunday [June 26].
Q: You ran 100 miles in 24 hours on your last day?
A: I think we ended up running 104 miles in less than 24 hours and that was pretty cool. I had a guy join me for his first 100 miler, so that was even more exciting. Like yeah, it was cool I made it; it was even more exciting to help a guy named John complete his first 100 miler and run, and I think he ran about 50 miles further than he ever run in his life.
Q: Now that everything is finished how do you feel?
A: I feel satisfied and exhausted, man, but happy and content.
Q: How do you feel physically now that everything is complete?
A: I feel great actually, I mean I have some things that are going to need to be looked at, but I feel like I could continue to do this for as long as I needed to, and I am excited to run a 5K tomorrow. Just to do something that is a bit quicker, so it will be good to get out there and see how the legs feel after running so far.
Q: This was always a dream of yours, so what’s next?
A: Ah man, I have so many different dreams, so this is one of many. I think the next thing I will do is check with my family as to what they are willing to be a part of, and don’t worry, I will let everyone know when we pick something that will be fun.
Q: How does it feel to not only hit your goal for World Vision, but to go over the amount you wanted to raise?
A: Oh my gosh, yeah, the goal was to raise $100,000 for World Vision, and I think right now, it is maybe $105,000. So, people have really showed out for it and it feels even better than running across the country. It’s like one of those things where each dollar has an outside impact and $100,000 impacts 2,000 people. So, every dollar more impacts even more people and allows people to be with clean water and that improves so many different aspects of their lives.
As of Saturday morning, the run had raised more than $109,000.
Q: How has running in general changed your life?
A: Running has been the catalyst for me to be able to explore what it means to move and it’s helped me travel the world and create friendships and relationships that I would never had. Running is definitely the most important things in my life, and I feel so fortunate that I stumbled upon it all those years ago at Michigan State University.
Q: What are some of the songs that you have on your playlist while running?
A: I feel like every day I have “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC, “Mama I’m Coming Home” by Ozzy Ozborne and the last couple of days [while running through West Virginia], I have been playing like “Country Roads Take Me Home” by John Denver. It’s a pretty eclectic playlist, like I have a guy named Colter Wall, Uncle Lucius, Old Crow Medicine Show and a few others like Rage Against The Machine and Metallica.
Q: I read online you have Athletes Heart, how does that affect you while running?
A: Having Athletes Heart means I have an enlarged heart, but it’s pretty awesome, I’m working with a team at MedStar Health and Cardiac Insights that have a device I wear while running. We are doing studies based on what happens to your heart when you put yourself in these kinds of extreme conditions, and I think it is going to be really cool to get a bunch of data and metrics that we can use to hopefully help people with a similar condition.
Q: How many pairs of shoes did you go through running across the country?
A: It was insane. I only went through three pairs of shoes, so a pair of my Hoka shoes had over 1,500 miles on them, I still feel like I could keep using them. Saving a pair of shoes is great and environmentally friendly and was cool to see how many miles you could get in a pair.
Q: How do you eat and do a run like this?
A: It takes a lot of calories and a good cook, so big shout out to my crew chief Eric Bells for always trying to find something that I would find appetizing, for being there for me, and it takes eating when you don’t want to. Every time I come into the RV it probably was 10 times a day I was trying to put something in my mouth. If you don’t fuel your body you can’t get where you wanna go. It’s been exciting now that I stopped and not to have to eat every hour on the hour.
Q: Did you have any problems along the way?
A: I mean with traffic I had a lot of problems, I had people running me off the road, I had people throwing hamburgers at me in Ohio. I wasn’t able to cross the Chesapeake Bay bridge on route 50 and had to detour up and around. Every day was a hard day, but traffic was one of the biggest factors for sure.
Q: If someone is an aspiring runner, what would you tell them as a bit of advice?
A: I would say start and pick an audacious goal, but it doesn’t have to be something huge it could be something like 5 minutes at a time and then after you get to 5 minutes, next make it 10 minutes. Start slow but be consistent and you will be surprised on how far you will get.
Q: What is the best advice you have ever been given?
A: I mean it sounds cliché, but to chase your dreams. I mean people say that and I feel like I did that in this case, and I would say it was one of the best things I have ever done in my life. So, don’t give up on your dreams, don’t settle, keep striving, and it’s never too late. I’m like 48 years old, and I got to chase down a 20-year-old dream. Keep striving and keep putting in the work and good things will happen.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to say about running across the country?
A: Running across the country showed me a lot of places that I wouldn’t have normally gone and that America is one of the most beautiful and diverse but friendly places that I have ever been. Like there was some issues with traffic, but for every one person that was unkind, 10 people went out of their way to be gracious and kind. I just can’t thank people enough for that and I was shocked on what a cool place we live in.
I am so proud of that fact that I am from West Virginia, it was amazing getting home to Virginia, but it felt like I was getting super close coming through West Virginia, getting a chance to run by a sign of where I grew up in Fairmont was, aw man that was one of those things that get you right in your heart.
Thank you to everyone that donated to World Vision. Thank you to all the people in your [West Virginia] area for the short gentle honks. I think we had over 70 people that saw the News 12 story and came out and supported us. That was so cool to see and there was a state trooper who rolled down on us and said, ‘Hey Mike we just wanted to say good luck.’ It felt like I was among friends for the day.
Even after accomplishing his dream to run across the America, Michael Wardian plans to run the Firecracker 5K on Saturday July 2 in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware to celebrate the 4th of July. You can find Michael Wardian on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter.