When Terry Hitchcock decided to run from his hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota to Atlanta, Georgia, in the span of 75 days before 1996 Olympics — he did so with a singular goal.
He wanted to shine a spotlight on the hardships of single parenting.
Hitchcock knew all too well about the challenges because he had lost his wife, Sue, to breast cancer, and he was forced to provide for his three children by himself.
And, he was inspired to raise awareness about the millions of single parents and children who were facing the same challenges as him.
“No one knows what they go through every day, so I thought, ‘I want to do something for them,’” Hitchcock said, now 77, during a luncheon meeting of the North Tampa Chamber of Commerce at Brunchies in Carrollwood.
“I’m kind of a dreamer and I thought, ‘Well the Olympics are coming to Atlanta — maybe I could run to Atlanta.’”
And, he did just that, completing the equivalent of more than a marathon a day, for 75 days in a row.
While helping to raise awareness about single-parent families, Hitchcock said the experience also taught him unexpected lessons, as he ran through cities and towns across several states.
The Clearwater resident now shares his story and offers encouragement to others through motivational speaking engagements.
His motto is “nothing is impossible.”
And, he urged members of the audience to embrace that attitude: “If you have a dream, don’t let anybody take it away from you.”
He reminded those gathered of the numerous icons that experienced failures and discouragement before going on to achieve great success.
Examples he cited included:
- Michael Jordan, who was cut from his varsity high school team as a sophomore
- Seuss, whose first book was rejected by 27 publishers
- Elvis Presley, who was fired by management at the Grand Ole Opry in 1954 following a lackluster performance
“It’s really all up here, in your mind. You can do a lot of things, but you have to convince (yourself) you can do it,” Hitchcock said.
When he decided to take to the road 20 years ago, it seemed like a far-fetched plan, particularly because, at 57, he was a slightly overweight “couch potato,” he said.
“No one gave me a chance,” Hitchcock said. “Runners said it was humanly impossible.”
To prepare for the grueling trek, Hitchcock trained for 17 months, suffering a heart attack halfway through his regimen.
Despite strict orders to stop from his primary care physician, Hitchcock kept at it.
“I didn’t care — I was going to do this,” Hitchcock said.
Throughout his 75-day excursion, Hitchcock actually logged an average of about 31 miles per day. The distance of a marathon is 26.2 miles.
“Every day there was pain,” Hitchcock said.
He fractured both ankles and cracked his patella (kneecap) tendon during his running tour, he said.
He also witnessed what he described as the “heartbeat of America.”
“I was in people’s homes, I was in schools, I was in churches,” Hitchcock said. “I could tell you 100 stories about what I saw; you don’t realize what’s out there.”
Perhaps Hitchcock’s most unforgettable moment came on ‘Day 39’ when he ran through East St. Louis (Illinois), labeled as one of the nation’s most dangerous and crime-ridden cities.
“This place looked like a bomb went off, and a bomb went off after that,” Hitchcock said. He recalled seeing burned out cars and dilapidated buildings on the East St. Louis streets.
Despite the city’s notorious reputation, Hitchcock said he was greeted with hugs and handshakes from residents in a show of support for his cause.
“Somewhere around 200 people gathered in a big circle around me with no exit, and in the middle of this circle we had a town meeting for a half an hour,” Hitchcock said. “We didn’t talk about the run, we talked about all the issues (facing America).
“It was the most unbelievable half hour ever spent in my life.”
Hitchcock was the subject of the 2009 documentary “My Run.” He also wrote a book, “A Father’s Odyssey: 75 Marathons in 75 Days.”
He now works as a professional speaker and as a business consultant.
Published July 6, 2016