Brit completes epic 3,000-mile run for fellow Army vets on Brooklyn Bridge
British consul: ‘Well done’
For the past four months, while mere mortals went about their everyday lives, a British Army veteran was running across the entire United States.
After an astounding 3,000-mile trek from San Francisco to New York — alone and with no support — Paul Wheeler ran into Brooklyn on Friday, crossing the Brooklyn Bridge at roughly 11:30 a.m. while pushing his camping gear, food and water in a stroller named “Wheelson” (a reference to Tom Hanks’ inanimate companion Wilson the volleyball in “Castaway”).
His monumental task finally over, Wheeler — sporting a full beard — received a hug from Laura Hickey, acting consul general at the British Consulate-General and applause from a smattering of supporters waving U.K. flags.
“Well done,” said Hickey, adding she was humbled by his achievement.
Wheeler, looking remarkably fit, said he undertook the challenge “to see what I’m made of,” and to raise awareness and money for The Royal British Legion, a charity important to him as a 12-year British Army veteran.
“The Legion is such a fantastic charity, whether you served in the Navy, the Army or the Air Force … They’re going to be there for you for the rest of your life, in terms of financial support, social support, housing, anything you require,” Wheeler said. He urged people to donate to the Legion at his website www.run-across-america.com.
What was on his mind as he was running across the country?
“Just getting to today,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle. “The last couple of days I’ve been relatively emotional. For the past two months or so, I’ve just been solely concentrating on this day in particular, just getting to this day.
“And maybe I sort of wished away the days when I shouldn’t have done. I should have stopped and taken in the smells and the sights a bit more than I did, rather than just putting my foot down and trying to cover as many miles as possible.
“But day by day, although I couldn’t see New York — it was too far over the horizon — at the end of every day I was always 25 or 30 miles closer,” he said. “It was always out of sight, but I was getting there.”
When the New York skyline came into view for the very first time, “I got a bit teary, a bit emotional,” he said. “It was a sight that I’ve been chasing for near on four months now. And for it to come into view when I wasn’t expecting it as well, just in amongst some trees … Yeah, it was a time and a scene that I’ll never forget.”
What is Wheeler going to do now that his run is over?
“Good question,” he laughed, “I just want to get home and chill out for a bit. And not run and not push a baby stroller with all my gear in.”
He added that he’ll be seeing family and friends, “possibly not run for a while, and then come up with a plan. I’ve had a few offers since I’ve been on the road to do sort of big, grand adventures, so maybe I’ll look into those a bit more.”
“You’re going to get your beer first?” asked Hickey. “I think you deserve one.”
“Oh, absolutely!” Wheeler said.
Making it through
Wheeler ran an average of 27 miles per day, with one rest day per week, and mainly camped overnight, though he sometimes stayed at the homes of total strangers. He said he was “blown away” by America’s generosity, including the time the Iowa police found him camping out and put him up in a motel room.
“Seeing America, literally on foot, and meeting so many amazing and generous people has helped make this the most incredible experience,” he said.
“It’s funny how your body can adjust when you do things day in, day out,” he said. “The first couple of weeks of this run, when I left Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, how tired I was at the end of each day, how much my legs ached. And my upper body, from pushing a hundred-pound cart. But after two or three weeks, my legs kind of got used to it what I was asking them to do day in day out.”
His schedule became, “I just get up, I run, I stop, I sleep, I get up again, I run, I stop, I sleep.
“And now we’re here,” he said. “I’ve made it, I feel happy, a touch emotional, trying to hold it together, and relief. There were plenty of days when I didn’t think this day was ever going to come. I was constantly chasing horizons.
“There were just days and days — especially Nebraska, for example. My word! Nebraska was just flat as a pancake. There was just nothing but corn field, corn field, corn field. It almost felt like I was on a running machine in the gym. I was literally not getting anywhere.”
Wheeler kept going by breaking the trip into 25-mile chunks,” he said. “I knew that if I just kept putting one foot in front of the other it was just a matter of time that I was going to get here.”
He’ll never forget the experience, he said. “Wonderful people have reached out and helped a complete stranger along the way, for no other reason than they wanted to help.
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