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August 20, 2013

A strong message

Jamie Summerlin knows a thing or two about adversity.

Running across America, the 40-year old West Virginian and former Marine, battled injuries, the elements and his own personal demons as he trekked his way through 16-states, 10 pairs of sneakers and 3,452 miles in only 100 days.

Summerlin would begin his journey by dipping his toes in the Pacific Ocean at Sunset Bay in Coos Bay, Oregon and would eventually come to conquer the most physically demanding challenge of his life by doing the same in the Atlantic Ocean in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

It was a journey that Summerlin embarked not for personal glory, but the brainchild of his to use his talents to help raise awareness and financial support for wounded veterans as well as interacting with and capturing the stories of those who served in the military along every step of the way.

The run itself was daunting task, making matters even more complicated was nagging shin injury over a four day span that almost derailed the run in its early stages swelling his leg to almost twice the size of his other one making even a quick jog difficult.

"Six or seven hours of running time went to 12-13 hour days," he said. "I keep pushing through and tried to not let myself get too far behind. Then I made the decision that I've got to do something to break this apart."

Summerlin recalls stretching out his ankle in the RV that accompanied his journey, only to hear his leg sound like "rice krispies," as his wife broke up the adhesions. He continued on the journey through the pain, but after hearing something from his son, it stuck with him.

"He just looked at me and said I never thought my dad would run across America, this is really cool," he said. "I decided either I'm going to do this or I'm not so I've got to make this happen."

After pushing ahead with the run fueled by the comments and the inspiration of supporting veterans across the country, Summerlin realized that the pain in his shin had subsided, something he credits to either a miraculous healing, his own ability to block out the pain or somewhere in between.

So when West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen was in search of someone to address the team last week about the topic of overcoming adversity, the Burnsville native was a natural pick. In all reality, the wheels had already been set in motion long before through discussions with the coaching staff.

Summerlin met Holgorsen at the coach's radio show at the Waterfront Hotel before his run and the head man offered his support to the cause. Once Summerlin had returned from the run, the two shared a moment at the kickoff show that the lifelong West Virginia fan remembers very fondly.

"He had a couple of photos. He had one to sign for me and one for me to sign for him. It was a reverse thing, you expect me to get the autograph," he joked.

Additionally, Holgorsen had inquired about the possibility of Summerlin addressing the team and while it wouldn't work out due to scheduling conflicts last season, this past week the opportunity presented itself and it's something he didn't want to pass up..

So fighting through a bit of nerves, Summerlin approached the podium and began to discuss his journey and the challenges he overcame along the way to accomplishing it. There were some laughs along the way, but the message was clear and precise.

"I went at them with the fact that I was a 39-year old man, weighed 121-pounds out of high school and didn't have the scholarships and the athletic ability, which are all the things these guys sitting in the room did have," he said. "I went out and did something very few people have ever done. I started it off with how I ended it, what are you going to do with what you've been given."

He touched on the shin injury and how he gathered inspiration on his run not only from his family, but with sharing stories with the veterans at VA Hospitals at stops along the way. One thing that put his travels into perspective was a simple exchange between Summerlin and the group.

Summerlin asked how many players in the room had run a 5k. Roughly seven to eight raised their hands. He then asked how many have run 11 of those in a day. And of course the response was none.

"That's what I averaged for 100-straight days," he told the group.

It wasn't a boastful statement in the slightest, instead directed at realizing the potential that lied within the young men in the room, each of which were more physically gifted than Summerlin.

"You guys have the opportunity to come out and play the game and get an education. You're working hard for it but are you putting everything you have in it for yourself and your teammates," he said. "I wanted them to imagine what they can do if they put their minds to it."

"I wanted them to realize the gravity of how big of an audience they have and how many people are relying on them to give their best every day," he added. "Watching on TV or sitting in the stands it's obvious to see who's giving their best. If we can see that, you certainly know the coaches can see that or their teammates."

West Virginia senior defensive end Will Clarke said the message not only touched him, but the rest of the team.

"You can do anything you put your mind to. When his leg swelled up, a lot of people would of stopped. But he had guys rooting for him and they wanted to see him finish and that meant something to him. As long as you know you're not just playing for yourself but somebody else, you'll be fine," he said.

Summerlin, a long-time member of the Blue Lot, continues to serve veterans through Operation Welcome Home, as well as continuing his passion for running with events in Arizona, Pittsburgh and Raleigh, with even more on tap for the future. His book, Freedom Run, recounts his 100-day journey as well as the encounters he had with those who he designed the run for in the beginning. He has participated in several book signings, often surprising those organizing the events.

"If I'm going to an event where there is a race, I'm doing it. It's eye opening to the purpose, and I want to keep moving forward and keep pushing myself beyond the walls I keep putting in front of me," he said.

"Every chance I get to shake the hand of a veteran and say thank you, I do," he said.


Information on Summerlin's book, as well as how to contact him for speaking engagements, team building exercises or sponsorship are available on his website www.freedomrunusa.com

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