By Jess Winans
Eric Keeler was getting pretty bored of his daily routine at home in the United Kingdom. So he decided to run across the United States to raise money for Spinal Research.
“When I was 6 or 7 years old, someone turned on the news back in the U.K. and someone was about to start a run across America. I thought that must be the best way to learn about a country,” Keeler said. “When I started doing some research for Spinal Research, I figured why not give it a go.”
Keeler was introduced to Spinal Research — a nonprofit in the U.K., which researches treatments for spinal cord injuries — five years ago while training for the London marathon.
“I signed up for the marathon way too late and was looking through the chart of charities to run for, and Spinal Research was the only one I was connected to,” he said. “I have friends who have broken their backs from accidents, so at the time I had a connection to the charity. The more I’ve learned about them, the more I wanted to fundraise for them.”
Seven months ago, Keeler quit his job and began his run in Lubec, Maine.
His run lasted 188 days and covered 16 states including New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, Illinois, Colorado, New Mexico and others. Keeler ran for eight hours straight during the day, pushing his cart with his personal belongings, food, water and tent. At night, he would eat, explore and camp out.
Keeler’s run was remarkably smooth, and he shared pictures and memories eating chicken wings in Saratoga Springs, New York; enjoying a beer in Battleboro, Vermont; eating a lobster in Lubec, Maine for his birthday; buying sneakers in Phoenix, Arizona; and other memories on his blog.
Things took a tumultuous turn, however, in Iowa when he was run off the road by a large truck.
“The driver was on his mobile [phone], drifting over onto my narrow hard shoulder. I moved as far as I could off the road when I saw him coming,” he said. “Thankfully, there was a huge, deep ditch running alongside the highway. He didn’t see me, not at all, and he could have finished me off there and then.”
After that incident, Keeler decided to take a day off to “catch his breath” and stayed at a hotel. He planned to run another eight hours that day and camp out at night.
“Whilst holed up in my motel, I got a phone call from the receptionist saying, ‘Look out of your window, but stay inside!’” he said. “There were two tornadoes in the far distance in just about the same place where that evening’s campsite would be. This [his time in Iowa] gave me the conviction that I could pretty much make it through anything else.”
On Monday, Dec. 3, at 11:55 a.m., Keeler reached the finish line at Mission Beach, running under a Spinal Research banner into the Pacific Ocean.
“Thank you for coming out,” Keeler said after he got out of the water. “This trip was 3,800 miles, 7.2 million steps, 16 states, eight pairs of shoes, 50 pounds and two oceans.”
Keeler was greeted by his brother, sister, mother and father; Thomas Curran, a San Diegan who is walking across America later this year to fundraise for children’s cancer research; a couple of passersby’s and a young man who heard word of Keeler’s trek from a Facebook video posted on the page “Yes Theory Fam.”
“I saw something from the Yes Theory Fam Facebook page and was like, ‘Wow, this guy is doing an amazing journey,’” Tyler Henson said. “I woke up today and checked my Facebook feed and I saw that [Keeler] was finishing here and I was like wow. So, I canceled everything I had planned today, like work and school, and I was like alright, I’m coming down here.”
Keeler isn’t sure what his next endeavor will be but said he will be returning to the U.K. for the holidays.
“When I started, I thought I had seven months to figure it out what to do next, but now I’m not sure,” he said. “I’ve become a lot more content with what’s going through my head and what’s going on. Before, I was always worried about what I was gonna do next, what job I had or if I would get to go on holiday next year, all the stuff that clouds your brain. Now I’m like, let’s see what happens. I’ve become a lot more content with being in the moment.”
In total, Keeler has raised $13,957.48 for Spinal Research.
—Reach Jess Winans at firstname.lastname@example.org.