Athlete brings attention to clean water access in run across America

Athlete brings attention to clean water access in run across America

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Michael Wardian, a Division I lacrosse player turned professional runner, has spent the majority of his adult life participating in marathons and ultramarathons all over the world. 

In May, he faced one of his toughest challenges to date: running across America.

Wardian started his journey running coast to coast May 1 to raise awareness and money for World Vision, a charity dedicated to helping children and families get access to clean and safe water.

By July 1, Wardian had run 3,234 miles, from San Francisco to Delaware. He raised over $112,000, which will go toward helping thousands of children and families in need. 

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Mike Wardian runs across America to raise money for World Vision.

Mike Wardian runs across America to raise money for World Vision. (@mikewardian)

Wardian told Fox News he got into running “just to stay fit” after retiring from lacrosse during his senior year at Michigan State University. His first and only goal at the time was to run the 1997 Boston Marathon. However, once he finished the 26.2 miles, he was hooked. 

Since then, Wardian has sought out and competed in races all over the world. To date, Wardian, who became a professional runner in 2001, has completed over 300 marathons and ultramarathons and even set Guinness World Records, according to his website.  

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In 2019, Wardian won the World Marathon Challenge, which is seven marathons on seven continents in seven days, for the second time. That same year, Wardian said he ran the full length of Israel, setting the fastest known time on the Israel National Trail. 

Still, it was nothing compared to his latest challenge.

Mike Wardian during his run across America.

Mike Wardian during his run across America. (@mikewardian)

“That was 10 days of like 60-plus miles a day,” Wardian said. “Once I got past 10 days, I had no idea what I was doing.”

Still, Wardian powered on, running 52 miles every day along Route 50 for 61 days until he reached Rehoboth Beach. 

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When the 48-year-old wasn’t sleeping in a van, he was bouncing to and from motels across the country to catch some sleep. He battled blisters and had burgers thrown at him from passing drivers.

Wardian said there were also times when drivers would try to steer their cars into him and his team while they were running on the side of the road. 

However, for every bad person or driver he came across, there were about 10 or 15 friendly ones, Wardian said. 

Mike Wardian stops in Washington, D.C. on his run for World Vision.

Mike Wardian stops in Washington, D.C. on his run for World Vision. (@mikewardian)

No matter what, he ran every single day. There were “no rest days, no off days,” Wardian said. 

Wardian was by himself for about 80% of the run, but there were times when strangers would join him for parts of his journey. In some cases, he would have around 30 people run with him at a time. 

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“It did really feel like Forrest Gump,” Wardian said. 

It was exactly the reaction he was hoping for. 

“People from Pittsburgh would interact with people from Clarksburg, West Virginia, and they would start talking … ‘Hey, maybe we can go for a run together sometime,'” he recalled. “People made connections that hopefully will last much longer than this run.” 

At one point, a man who just survived multiple heart surgeries joined him for a 6-mile stint. 

Mike Wardian and others hoist a World Vision banner.  

Mike Wardian and others hoist a World Vision banner.   (@mikewardian)

Establishing those connections was one of the reasons Wardian set out on this run. 

The other reason was to help World Vision. According to the organization, over “800 children under age 5 die every day from diarrhea caused by contaminated water, poor sanitation and unsafe hygiene.” 

The organization firmly believes the “global water and sanitation crisis can be solved within our lifetimes.” 

Mike Wardian hugs someone during his run across America to raise money for World Vision.

Mike Wardian hugs someone during his run across America to raise money for World Vision. (@mikewardian)

“I know I can control the running and I have a good team in place but … when you’re fundraising, you’re asking people to care about something that you care about that might not be top of mind,” he said. 

In the end, that didn’t seem to be a problem. 

Days after Wardian made it to Rehoboth Beach, money continued to pour in. By July 6, he had raised $112,347.54.

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“It takes extreme perseverance, determination and heart to push your body and mind to the limit the way Mike has done,” Team World Vision’s Brian Frazier said in a statement to Fox News. 

As a result of his efforts, “over 2,000 children and families will be getting access to clean water and the ability to lift themselves out of poverty,” Frazier added. 

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