Crossing the nation for a cause

This post was written by Brittany King, Digital Content Specialist, Parkview Health.

It’s Friday and I’m in the final hour of the workweek. I have a busy weekend planned, and I’m looking forward to getting out of the office and into the summer sunshine. There’s one last task on my to-do list, an interview with Chris Miller, scheduled and confirmed at the last minute because of the nature of the project he’s working on — a solo run across the country to change the dialogue surrounding addiction and recovery, an endeavor he’s calling, “Chris Cross the Nation”.  

I dial the number. A man named Mike Dusman answers.

Mike, I learn, is a member of the three-man Chris Cross the Nation team. “Think of the three of us as a little circus,” he joked. Chris is the runner, and the one who came up with the concept. Mike manages the marketing, and Kevin Hu, the third member, handles images and film. Mike and Kevin work together to bring awareness to Chris’s run and to document the endeavor. “It’s our job to make the journey live on after he’s done running,” Mike said.

After our brief chat, Mike put Chris on the line. Chris speaks with a soft strength. His tone is kind, genuine and passionate, but also exudes the confidence of someone who knows he’s on the right path. I learn it’s three weeks into Chris’s run across the U.S., and they’re on the last leg of their path through Pennsylvania, preparing to cross into Ohio.

While Mike and Chris aren’t always together, Mike had just reunited with the runner, an RV in tow. Prior to this, Chris had been ticking off the miles through Pennsylvania alone, pushing his belongings in a baby jogger and running from campsite to campsite. “It will be a little easier with the RV,” he said. “Before, I was planning my route around the campsites, but now things can be more direct.” By this point, I was completely fascinated. “Wait,” I said, “are you telling me that you just trekked across the entire state of Pennsylvania all by yourself in less than three weeks with a baby jogger?” He confirmed my understanding. That was exactly what he was telling me. I had a lot of questions. I decided to start at the beginning.

What prompted this man to jog from New York to California?

Born and raised in Fort Wayne, Chris joined the Peace Corps after college and spent time in Honduras, Columbia and Spain. Growing up, he had a loved one who struggled with alcoholism. “I saw what it does to an individual, their family, and friends. While I was in the Peace Corps and in Spain, I spent a lot of time reflecting on the past. And it occurred to me that, many times, when we raise awareness about addiction and recovery, the focus is on the negative. But there are so many stories of hope that come from addiction. I wanted to reduce the stigma.”

From that reflection, an idea was born. Chris had always been a strong runner, and during his time in Spain, he’d developed an interest in marathons. One day, he stumbled upon an article about how to run across the United States. And that was it; the catalyst for Chris Cross the Nation. In April 2016, he began training for his trek. “I ran daily and gradually increased my mileage. I found that 14 was the magic number for my weekday runs. I think my job as a teacher really helped me prepare. I’d get up in the morning and run 14 miles, then be on my feet all day long attending to kids. On the weekends, I’d do my longer runs.”

By August 2016, he was mapping his course. “I planned my route on my own. It took me about five months. I would choose a path on Map My Run, and then I’d look it up on street view with Google Maps to make sure there was enough room on the side of the road for a runner.” Soon, he had a small team in place, a crowdfunding campaign, and some sponsors, including Parkview Health, all standing behind him and his message.

Now, nearly a month in, he’s finding what works on the road. He carries a hydration pack on his back that has pockets for his phone, a GPS tracker and mace. He stays hydrated with a sports drink, and usually has about five water bottles and an additional gallon of water with him. On a typical day, during those first two weeks, he’d wake up around 6 a.m., pack up his campsite, and be on the road by 7 a.m. He’d take a midday break, eat, and then run the rest of the afternoon. He drinks whole milk and V8 juice, and he takes a daily vitamin. His go-to snacks include beef jerky, pistachios and almonds, and he confesses to occasionally stopping at Pizza Hut, “for the carbs”. “In Pennsylvania, I didn’t come across a supermarket for about 10 days,” he recalled. “That was difficult.”

Chris runs between 20-30 miles a day, and should be able to cross the nation in 150 days.

With several states to go, he’s already witnessing the incredible impact his journey is having on others. Every day, someone asks him what he’s doing, and he’s able to share his message. Last Friday, for example, a woman who heard his story took the time to pray for him and gave him $7 for good luck. “I have the coolest conversations. The positive response was unexpected, but I’ve received so many words of encouragement. That’s pretty awesome.”

Today, Chris’s Instagram tells the story of a woman who overcame addiction and brought The Police Assisted Addiction Recovery Initiative to over 30 districts in Ohio. Yesterday, it told the story of another man they met who overcame addiction and is on the road to recovery. And these posts are only the beginning of a collection that will only grow as he blazes the path before him.

And since no one should have to fight a battle alone, Chris encourages people to come run with him, any time. You can find his progress and route on his website. At the end of each day, he marks his finishing spot, so people know where to meet him in the morning if they want to join him for a few miles. It’s just one more way he is collecting stories of addiction and connecting the people affected by the disease.

And it’s a cause that certainly resonates with our local community. I reached out to Shawn Fingerle, director of clinical services, Parkview Behavioral Health, to gain a better understanding of the impact addiction has in our area. For the purpose of our discussion, Shawn focused on the devastating drug spice, a type of synthetic marijuana, though he pointed out this epidemic is broader, noting specifically the prevalent opioid crisis.

Spice is a drug made with chemicals, and the user most likely has no idea what’s in it. People think that spice is more benign than typical street drugs; that it can get you high, but it’s not going to hurt you. This is far from the truth. It can be both physically and psychologically addictive. The substance can be infused with anything from insecticides and bleach to rat poison and antifreeze, which can be fatal when consumed.

Additionally, because the THC levels are so much higher than in traditional marijuana, it has a greater potential to cause psychosis, and there’s a chance that the side effects will never go away, even after the drug clears the system. Spice is being consumed predominantly by people in their teens and their early twenties. So far this year, we’ve almost doubled the amount of overdoses from spice and other substances in our community compared to last year – a frightening statistic – and things don’t seem to be slowing down.

The sobering numbers are part of the power behind Chris’s message. “I think that if we change the dialogue around addiction, we could encourage more people to seek help,” he said. He expressed this concept a few times in our conversation. His hope is, if we share stories of hope, and break down the stigma attached to addiction, maybe more people would be willing to come forward. If we welcome people home from rehabilitation with excitement and encouragement, and tell them how proud we are of them and their journey to recovery, instead of allowing them to feel shame, we can start to tell a different story. “It’s a societal issue,” Chris explained, the passion in his voice tangible. “We all need to step in and help.”

I hung up with Chris and walked out into the beautiful summer sun, feeling a little bit different than I was when I went into work that day. Spending an hour listening to a man who is following his passion and creating something bigger than himself, all for the betterment of society, will do that to you. As I reflected over the weekend, these words kept coming back to me: “One thing I love about doing this run is that every day feels like a victory. At the end of the day, after running 20-30 miles, I feel like I did something really big. It’s a great feeling.”

With people like Chris leading the way, I am certain we can promote hope. When I asked him what was next, after all this was over, his answer was simple. It was perfect, really. “I have some ideas, but I’m going to see where the road takes me.”

 

Chris will be running into Fort Wayne and spending some time in our community August 14 -19. Learn more about his journey and his cause at a very special public event, sponsored by Parkview Behavioral Health.  

Follow Chris on Instagram, Facebook, and with the hashtag #SeeChrisRun

 

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