Jamie Summerlin loves college football, but that’s not why he’s going to the Military Bowl later this month. He has teams he likes and teams he dislikes, but that’s not why he’ll be in Annapolis on Dec. 27 either; as a West Virginia fan, he has an allegiance to neither Marshall nor Maryland.
Is it proximity, then? Well, not exactly. Sure, the Military Bowl is the closest postseason game to Summerlin’s Morgantown, W.Va. home, but it wouldn’t be a terribly longer drive to the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit or the Music City Bowl in Nashville.
Thing is, Summerlin isn’t driving from West Virginia to the Military Bowl. He’s running there.
The 41-year old will start in Shepherdstown, W. Va. at the Two River Treads running store, leaving on Dec. 26 at 7:30 in the morning. He’ll finish 101 miles and 24 hours later at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, arriving about seven hours before kickoff. He’ll eat and drink on the way — he figures he’ll consume, among other things, an entire watermelon and seven to nine gallons of Gatorade en route. He won’t sleep. He’s likely to be the only attendee who runs 101 miles to this, or any other, bowl game, but he’s ok with that.
“My kids think I’m crazy, and that’s fine,” Summerlin told me. “Why go through life normal? Because this is absolutely not normal.”
Not for most people, but it’s getting to be normal for Summerlin. Previously a Marine Corps corporal, he was working in IT four years ago when he trained for and then ran his first marathon, in Richmond. He liked it. Six weeks later, he moved on to a 50k race in Charleston, W. Va. Temperatures were below freezing, there was snow on the ground, and while his wife was driving him home, Summerlin began looking for his next race.
By 2012, as you’ve no doubt guessed, Summerlin was running across the country. Like, literally. He began in Oregon, with his feet in the Pacific Ocean. He ran about 34 miles a day. He didn’t take any break days. His wife Tiffany and kids Nicholas (now 13) and Shayna (11) traveled along in an RV. He went 3452 miles in 100 days, hearing countless “Forrest Gump” jokes along the way. And he finished things off with his longest run of the trip: a 100-mile journey from Annapolis to Rehoboth Beach.
USA Crossers, which tracks such things, lists him as one of 279 people to have accomplished such a feat, although far fewer join Summerlin in the “ocean-to-ocean” category.
His goal was to say thank you to veterans, to bring honor and awareness to them and their causes. He said he raised about $50,000. Then he wrote a book — “Freedom Run” — and eventually left his job to be a full-time motivational speaker.
But clearly, there was also personal satisfaction: coming up with a plan — a fairly ambitious plan, at that — and following through.
“I’ve got tunnel vision, let’s put it that way,” he said. “When I set my mind to something, I do it. I get blinders on, and at times I’ve gotten focused on things and I’ve disregarded other things around me. Yeah, there’s a level of insanity to it, I guess, but there’s a purpose behind it. Why not utilize what I’ve been given to do something good?”
Which brings us back to the Military Bowl. Through friends in the military, Summerlin had finished the penultimate day of his cross-country run with a few laps inside Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium; he called it “one of the top two or three moments” of his entire journey. He returned to the stadium this fall for the Air Force-Navy game, where he ran into Military Bowl executive director Steve Beck. The next morning he sent Beck an e-mail proposing a new run — 101 miles, with the last mile signifying “what our military does every single day: they always go the extra mile, they always go above and beyond.”
Beck liked the plan, and so now Summerlin is searching for sponsors and donors, with the goal of raising $100,000. He’s inviting people to join him during his run – his Web site, FreedomRunUSA.com, already shows his route, and will update his progress every two minutes. He will be part of the pregame ceremonies and pregame parade, and “if I have to crawl, at some point I’m gonna crawl into the stadium,” he said.
And a week and a half later, he plans on doing another 50k.