In addition to the text below, at the bottom are 60 photos I took from Drew’s journey through the Las Vegas area. I understand if you don’t want to read the “longer version,” but please consider reading the “shorter version” below and then scrolling through the photos, which I feel tell a lot of the story. 🙂
Shorter version: I discovered there was a 23-year-old named Drew walking across the U.S. to raise money for a total stranger, Liz, who is fighting MS (after already beating leukemia). He chose to do this as a random act of kindness. I didn’t know Drew, but when I saw he was headed through Las Vegas, I offered to do some walking with him and let him stay at our house. He stayed with us three nights, I accompanied him for 32.25 miles one day, and brought him supplies (namely food) on a couple more occasions. I/We helped Drew with some tangible things, but I got way more from the experience than I gave. For more info on Drew’s journey (including his route and how to donate money for Liz), check out www.walkforliz.com and/or go to and “like” the Walk for Liz Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/walkforliz
For me, this story really started a couple weeks ago… the rest of the story starts earlier. I “like” quite a few positive Facebook pages and appreciate the quotes and stories I find. In one particular group (“Stories That Help Us Remember People Are Good and Kind”), I saw a link to another page titled “Walk For Liz.” The simple name made me curious, so of course I clicked on the link, which had some info but ultimately led me to http://www.walkforliz.com.
Here’s the background of Walk for Liz: 21-year-old Liz Estes beat leukemia a while back but was recently diagnosed with severe multiple sclerosis. Her health has drastically deteriorated to the point she has difficulty even playing with her 20-month-old daughter; she is also pregnant now. 23-year-old Drew Blondeaux had the desire to do a random act of kindness for a stranger, and he found out about Liz through his uncle who is a pastor. He chose her as the recipient, and as his random act of kindness, he chose to walk across the United States to raise money for Liz and her family.
It was just a couple weeks between when Drew made his decision to help Liz and when he set out from Oceanside, California enroute to New York. When I found the web site, he’d been walking for a week. Without thinking, I immediately found the “contact” link and sent Drew a message saying that he could stay with us if he came through Vegas and that I’d be interested in keeping him company for a day. The next day, Drew responded with a very kind message saying he’d like to take me up on the offer and should let me know when he got closer. Cool. I then texted my husband, Asa, to tell him to remind me to tell him about the person who’d probably be staying with us. Thankfully, Asa was fine with an idea.
I’ve gotten a bit of criticism from people who think it was a really bad idea to invite a total stranger into our home. As I explained it to someone else, yes, worst case scenario is that Asa and I could have been killed or our house could have been burglarized. However, I figured the chances that I’d just happen to invite someone to stay with us who was a murderer or burglar were pretty low. Also, keep in mind that he never asked to stay anywhere; I had been the one to contact him. And best case scenario? Pretty much how it turned out. Asa and I had a great experience, my life was impacted for the better, and I made an awesome new friend.
I think it’s important to take risks in life. I could live in fear and paranoia, and I’d still die someday. I can try to avoid every dangerous situation and die in my house or walking to the mailbox. But I want to LIVE life. Additionally, I’m a huge proponent of “paying it forward.” Just two weeks prior to sending Drew the invite to our home, Asa and I stayed in another stranger’s home in conjunction with a race. True, I knew who HE was (seeing as he’s an ultrarunning legend), but at the time he invited us to his home, we’d exchanged maybe 200 words and he knew nothing about us except that I’d run a 100-miler and was signed up for another one. And I did ask him later on why he had so quickly opened his home to strangers. Simple–He said many strangers had let him stay with them in conjunction with races over the years and that he had a lot of paying it forward to do before he even broke even.
Since Drew was walking through the Mojave desert enroute to Vegas, there were a few days where he had zero cell phone reception, so it was a mystery as to when he would even arrive, but we had an idea that it would be Friday evening or Saturday morning. And the plan from there? No idea. That sort of drove me crazy because I’m a huge planner.
Drew texted me Saturday morning saying he and his friend (who had accompanied him from Twenty-Nine Palms to Vegas) had just arrived in the area and that they would hang out a bit and that he’d contact me a bit later. I smiled at his texts because every one of them seemed so appreciative. He even noted that he didn’t expect us to come pick him up immediately and that he’d be willing to wait hours if necessary so it fit our schedule. We were able to get him pretty quickly, though, when he texted us a few hours after he’d made it to the area.
Drew had a jogging stroller that carried all of his gear. I had wondered how he’d been traveling. He had water, clothes, a bit of food, and some sleeping stuff. Evidently, when he was traveling through the middle of nowhere, he would just retreat to an out-of-sight location at the end of the day to sleep near the road. It didn’t sound very enjoyable, but that kind of thing wasn’t totally foreign to him. He spent five years in the military, most of which was with the Marines, and he had two deployments to Afghanistan and one elsewhere—he just got out last year. In other words, he was used to accommodations that weren’t exactly luxurious (understatement, haha).
We took Drew back to our house so he could shower and we could do his laundry. We then went to Walmart and out to dinner at our favorite local Greek restaurant where we all got to know each other better. It continuously struck me as surprising (in a good way but still surprising) how little Drew expected from us. We were really willing to help him however we could, but he was hesitant to request anything. And he was thanking us non-stop, many times for things that really weren’t a big deal, like us driving him to Walmart or me insisting he sit in the front seat (since there’s more room and he’s taller).
Drew decided to take Saturday and Sunday off from traveling and relax a little bit. In talking to Drew about his journey so far, logistics, strategies, etc., there were quite a few things I identified that I would do differently if I were him. He didn’t seem to want to heed any of them, and initially, this annoyed me. It also initially annoyed me that I’d wanted to walk over the weekend and that wasn’t what he was doing. But then I realized the totally obvious fact that it was entirely HIS journey and he could do whatever he wanted. And the timing of his walking not lining up with when I wanted to do it? So what, it totally wasn’t about me at ALL. I’d agreed to help him as needed, not tell him what to do. I also had to reevaluate some of what I was telling him as I was saying things with the best of intentions based on my own experiences, but hello?!… I’ve never done anything like walking across the country. This was humbling for me, but I’m glad I got this reality check early.
Another thing about Drew is that he would rather make his own mistakes than be told what to do. However, early on, he acknowledged that he did appreciate recommendations, even if he didn’t immediately follow them. He said he commits them to memory, and if his own way of doing things doesn’t work that he’ll consider them. Fair enough!
When I’d first told Drew I was interested in accompanying him during one of his walks, I mentioned I was an ultrarunner just so he would know I could walk the whole day. I laughed when he said I was crazy for running ultras. I didn’t think it was any crazier than walking across the country, but I figured it was a matter of perspective. 😉 One of the first things he said she we met was, “So you can do the long stuff, like 100-milers?” And for the first time in response to that question, I was able to confirm that.
I also played a podcast for Drew that I’d randomly listened to the day before he arrived. It was an interview with Marshall Ulrich that touched on his other accomplishments but focused on his cross-country run. (Marshall Ulrich holds the 3rd fastest record of crossing the U.S. on foot, among many other accomplishments. He also had his toenails surgically removed, which it seems is what a lot of people easily remember about him.) I could tell this fascinated Drew and he prompted him to consider it might not take him as long to cross the country as he’d originally thought.
The topic of my friend Jenny and the orange bracelets came up in conversation the first night Drew was here, and I told Jenny’s story and he asked me if I had extras because he wanted to wear one. I gave him a “Running for Jenny” bracelet and the first thing he said after he put it on was, “So I guess I should do some running.” Drew DID decide he wanted to start running a bit instead of just walking like he had done up to Vegas.
On a whim, I sent Marshall Ulrich an email giving him a brief overview of Drew, what he’s doing, and asked if he had any tips for him. I’d been in contact with Marshall within the last several months regarding different topics: wearing an orange bracelet and also my path in 100-milers (yes, he too brought up the fact I’m not near my potential yet, haha). Marshall not only responded to my email the next day, but he went and checked out the walkforliz.com web site and signed the guestbook, and then he gave me multiple tips to pass on to Drew. He was so kind. He also requested that I keep him updated on Drew’s progress. I was so happy to be able to pass on Marshall’s advice to Drew, and I knew it meant a lot to Drew—not just the advice but the fact that someone so accomplished cared enough to help him in any way. (And Marshall has proactively contacted me multiple times to check on Drew’s progress and to see how he is feeling—truly a class act.)
Monday was the day I was going to spend with Drew on the roads. We drove down near the Stratosphere where he’d left off when he got into Vegas. Immediately as we started walking, it started raining. And it was cool and windy—definitely not very Vegas-like. It was an interesting start to the day. Drew decided he wanted to run 10 minutes every hour to see how that felt. It sounded very doable to me. At the completion of our first 10-minute running segment, I told him our average pace had been 8:40. He asked, “Oh, that’s okay, right?” I couldn’t find a way to tell him that he needed to slow down since that was close to my 5k PR pace, so I just decided to suck it up. And yes, I was humbled! 😉
Drew had been covering marathon-plus distances each day pretty consistently (which he hadn’t trained for at all), which I thought for some reason would mean the running would be slow… but I overlooked two very key bits of info: First, he’s 23, and secondly, he just left his job with the Marines last year—he’s a beast. I was humbled, but quiet. Luckily his running paces gradually slowed to about a 10:00 pace in the last few running segments. What is funny is that I brought up the initial 8:40 pace at the end of the day when I was with Drew and Asa, and Drew commented that because I never answered his question about whether or not his running pace was good, he hadn’t known the entire day and thought it might have been too slow. This cracked me up, especially since I had assumed his question was rhetorical.
While I acknowledged the journey was his to make, there were two things I “highly encouraged” him to change. He was taking 30-minute breaks every three hours throughout the day, but he wasn’t eating anything between them and he was only drinking water every couple hours too. Drinking water was inconvenient since he had to stop and take out one of his one-gallon jugs to get water. I brought some extra food for the day we spent together and Asa lent him his favorite water bottle (that had a strap) for him to try out. And I told him that if he didn’t feel like eating a bunch that he could drink some of his calories, which he seemed to accept. As it turned out, the water bottle did its job and he was easily able to drink and walk at the same time. (Asa ended up letting him keep the water bottle; I love how generous my husband is.) In addition to the calories he was taking in, most of the time when I ate something, I’d offer it to him too (and he’d eat it).
Drew and I made our way north on Las Vegas Boulevard past the Stratosphere, Fremont Street, the pawn shop where Pawn Stars is filmed, some very questionable areas of town, and finally past Nellis Air Force Base and the Las Vegas Speedway. We were beyond civilization at that point but continued on Las Vegas Boulevard until we got to US-93, at which point we headed north. Since there were “Walk For Liz. Com” signs on is back and on the front of the cart, a few people stopped us to ask questions, which was neat.
Since Drew told me he learned best when he made his own mistakes, I tried to stand back and let this happen, as much as I wanted to save him the effort of making them. One of the funniest instances during our time together was when we had just approached a relatively steep but short hill and Drew’s watch said it was time for us to run, so we ran… for a couple minutes, just long enough for Drew to start huffing and puffing and start to fall behind my pace. Then I told him to walk. I then pointed out to him that there’s no reason he should be running UP hills, and that he could easily shift his running segment just a few minutes to coincide with one of the downhill or flat sections. He asked why I hadn’t told him that before he tried to run uphill. I asked him if he would have listened to me, and he admitted he would not have. But I figured he had experienced it enough to learn his lesson. 😉
As we walked and ran, Drew and I chatted about lots of things on a wide variety of topics. On the surface, Drew and I are very different people. He’s very much a free spirit, loves to travel and do things spontaneously without a plan, and is very extroverted; I am almost the opposite on all of these spectrums. However, after spending many hours with him, it was clear we hold some of the same values and beliefs about people, including the notion that it is imperative that people be kind to one another and help others how they can. While we were not doing an ultra race, my time with Drew reminded me very much of my ultra experiences, where people making up different cross-sections of society interact and almost effortlessly build bonds with one another. I didn’t expect this to happen, but I wasn’t too surprised.
At the end of our 32.25 miles together, Asa drove an hour and a half from his work to pick us up, bring me back to my car, and then drive home. It might have made sense to bid Drew farewell at that point, but instead, I decided we should take him back to our house so he could have one more hot meal, night in a bed, the ability to shower, and to do his laundry again. This seemed like a better option to me; Asa even lent him a pair of his clothes so we were able to get ALL of Drew’s clothes washed. When I mentioned to Drew that it might not make a difference in the grand scheme of things, at least he’d have a roof over his head one more night, he corrected me. He told me it DID matter in the grand scheme of things. He said that when he’s out there on his own, the small gestures of kindness people have shown him and the words of encouragement from people are the only thing he has to hold onto.
Tuesday, we woke up early so I could drive Drew out to where we’d left off at the prior day before going to work. I told him I would walk with him a mile; after a bit more than a mile passed, I told him I needed to leave. We exchanged a few words, I gave him a hug, then I turned around and walked away. I felt terrible doing this. While I have no desire to cross the country on foot, I would have been content to keep Drew company for a few weeks. Within an hour of leaving Drew, I got a text from him, the contents of which were exactly what I could have texted to him: “You motivate me. I am very blessed to have met you. I will keep in touch. Miss you already.” This made me smile, but I still wasn’t happy with the manner in which I’d left him
After work on Tuesday, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to find him, particularly since he retreats off into the desert at the end of the day’s mileage out of sight, but I figured it was worth a shot. On the way, I stopped at a truck stop and got a Starbucks drink, a personal pizza, and a Subway cookie. And I found him. He was happy to see me. He’d been battling a 35 MPH headwind all day and seemed to appreciate just being able to sit in my car and eat out of the wind. In spite of the crazy wind, he seemed to be in good spirits. I felt better leaving him in this condition.
On Wednesday, I got a text from Drew saying “not to freak out” but he thought he ruptured his Achilles tendon. The road he was on (which is the same one I’d been on with him for a handful of miles) was dangerous due to the one lane of traffic each way, 75 MPH speed limit, and very small shoulder. One of his close calls was when a semi ran him off the road, and when he got out of the way, he heard his Achilles pop. I did some research and every single thing I read online said doing anything with any kind of injured Achilles (even just a strain) was a terrible idea. I voiced my concern to Drew. He was stubborn and refused to quit. I did not agree with his decision, but again, I knew it wasn’t my job to tell him what to do… not that he would have listened anyway. 😉
I recalled in Marshall Ulrich’s book Running on Empty that he mentioned all of his injuries in the appendix in the back. I noted that he had Achilles issues that began day 2… of 38. This was hopeful as it told me it was at least possible to cross the country with an Achilles problem. I once again emailed Marshall and he gave me explicit advice for what Drew could do to ease the pressure on his tendon. Of course I knew this didn’t mean Drew was wise for continuing or that he still wasn’t at risk of doing permanent damage, but I was glad to pass on some info that would make his journey a bit less painful.
I really struggled with how to handle Drew’s decision to keep going with an Achilles injury. I knew there might be things I would be able to do to ease his pain and discomfort, but I didn’t want him to view this as me thinking his decision was a wise one. I thought about this quite a bit before deciding that I would do what I could to ease his burden a little bit, even if I disagreed with his decision to push through it—and I had made my viewpoint quite clear to him.
The following Saturday, I realized it was my last chance to bring him anything if I planned to do that. I had a good idea where he would be; I laughed when I put it into my GPS and discovered it was exactly 100.0 miles from our house—the exact distance I would be RUNNING the following weekend. Yet I had been thinking it might be too far away to drive, haha. I decided to bring him another pair of shoes (a duplicate of the ones he had), a reusable ice bag (that he could fill with ice but that took up almost no room when it was empty), some topical pain gel, a wind and water resistant jacket (which he traded for the one I’d gotten him a few days earlier was just wind resistant, seeing as I knew the water resistant one would come in handy), and some food of his choice.
Driving to see him that day was interesting. Turning onto US-95 north, where I had just walked with him five days prior, was strange because I knew I still had over an hour of driving at 75 MPH to get to where he was… and he had covered that entire distance on foot. When you drive a distance you know for a fact someone else has just walked/ran, it gives you a different perspective. And honestly, it made my upcoming 100-miler seem not so daunting.
I brought Drew a cold bottle of Gatorade, a couple breakfast sandwiches, and an ice cream sandwich (okay, I wanted the ice cream sandwich but couldn’t justify eating the whole thing, so I took a few bites and let him have the rest). We chatted some more while he ate in my car. Afterward, I wanted to check out his Achilles injury myself. His ankle area was a bit swollen and he felt tenderness from his heel up most of his calf. I could feel a lump in his calf and gave him a quick massage. He said it hurt, but I knew it would help him. I also rubbed some of the pain gel on his heel, Achilles, and calf. When he stood up after I was done, he commented how much looser and better he felt. I told him not to push it (famous last words).
Once again, I was not happy to say bye to Drew, but I knew this would be the final time I would see him on his trip, barring an emergency. (Asa and I had told him that any point between Las Vegas and Cedar City, where he had family, we could find a way to come get him if he was in trouble.) I felt okay leaving him this time. He was injured but in good spirits, and he still looked strong. 🙂 Plus, I knew this was his journey, and in order to reach his goal, he needed to keep moving forward, far beyond the area I could help him out.
During the week of interactions with Drew while he was in the area (and our near-daily contact now via mostly text message), I can honestly say I gained a good friend. He is generous, never expected anything, and was incredibly appreciative of every small gesture of kindness we extended to him. But as I told him multiple times, I got a lot out of the experience too. He reminded me of the importance of reaching outside of my comfort zones and helping others—and actually doing things, not just thinking or talking about them. He also reminded me that even small actions make a huge difference.
One of the big things I think can be taken away from his journey as he continues east to New York is that if he can do that for someone he didn’t even know, what can the rest of us do for strangers but also the people close to us? No one needs to cross the country on foot, but there are so many ways to positively impact other people that take virtually no money, time, or even effort. Can you take a moment to hold a door open for someone? Can you let in the car that’s trying to turn into traffic? Can you smile or ask how someone is doing when it looks like they’re having a bad day? Can you do a chore you normally don’t do around your house to help out your significant other?
Along those same lines, if anyone is interested in showing Drew and Liz (and her family) some support in a super simple way, please consider liking the Walk For Liz Facebook page (www.facebook.com/walkforliz). I know it seems trivial and perhaps pointless, but know that it does matter. Drew is doing this journey solo, and with the exception of some texts and phone calls with friends and family, one of the only indicators he has that there are people out there who support him and what he’s doing is that the number of “likes” on the page is increasing. When people give me any positive feedback about what he’s doing, I pass it on to him so he knows, but for the most part, the page is very quiet. Of course if you’re interested in supporting him a bit more, consider saying hi or sharing a few miles with him if he’s coming through your area (tentative route is on the web site at http://www.walkforliz.com). I know he’d appreciate it. Or visit the web site and find out how you can make a financial donation.
I am so grateful that I was able to be a small part of Drew’s journey. I am also excited not only that he ran little parts of our 32.25 miles together (about 10 miles that day), but that he has chosen to implement running a lot more regularly since then. I am so proud of him for being so selfless and for making such incredible progress. As I’ve told him, I sometimes question his judgment, but I NEVER question his dedication and compassion. Drew inspires me to want to be a better person.
Drew is planning on doing an official ultra sometime after he finishes his cross-country voyage for Liz. I’ve already told him I will be there to support him, if it is at all possible.
And in case someone is wondering, as of about an hour ago, Drew is currently on US-40 in Utah heading east, about 10 miles from Colorado; he will stay on US-40 for a few more days until he gets to Denver.
I gave Drew a hard time about keeping very little documentation and taking very limited photos during his journey. But I told him I would do my best to ensure the “Las Vegas and vicinity” portion of his trip was covered. The following photos are from my time with him.