Going the Distance

Legal team raises funds for medical research, one mile at a time

By Cliff Collins

You could blame the marathon on the ancient Greeks. It was our choice, though, to maintain the absurdly long distance of 26 miles and 385 yards. That was how far legend says the Greek runner ran in 490 B.C. - from Marathon to Athens - to tell of the victory over the Persians.

Marathons are one thing. Nearly a year from now, 28 individuals - 23 of whom possess or are pursuing law degrees, and thus should have better sense - will attempt to do something that, as far as the sponsors can determine, has never before been attempted: running across America - the whole way - in a relay. This one will be run for a charitable cause, but spearheader Craig N. Johnston says he has not been able to uncover any previous event of this type, 'charitable or otherwise.'

Johnston, a professor of law at Northwestern School of Law at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, is the Pied Piper of Run America 2002. That's the name of the event, and the nonprofit organization behind the relay, set for May and June of 2002. Johnston's contagious enthusiasm convinced the group, ages 25 to 60, to embark on an expedition of 3,300 miles in four weeks. Each runner will average about 60 miles a week, two five-mile legs a day, with one day off a week. Nine of the 28 will run all four weeks, from start to finish, while the others will run one or more weeks.

It's 'a serious undertaking' for folks who, 'as a group, are far from world-class runners,' Johnston says, though many on the team have run in road races and marathons. Johnston himself has run nine marathons and numerous long-distance races. And the team will be running, not jogging, averaging 7½-minute miles. They will be running for a cause: to raise money for research into myotonic dystrophy, a form of muscular dystrophy. Their overall goal is to raise at least $250,000 in pledges. Each participant who agreed to run made three commitments, says Johnston: to raise at least $1 a mile, or $3,300 minimum, but between $3,300 and $10,000; to cover all personal expenses; and to be prepared physically and mentally to carry out his or her part in running, for a team covering about 120 miles a day.

None of the course will take place on interstate highways. The entire route is set for secondary roads, and much scenery. On May 26, the team begins running from Cape Meares to Jackson Hole; next stop is Omaha, Neb., then New London, Ohio; and the final segment ends in Boston on June 22. Along the way, and before departing, members want to inspire personal and corporate contributions. 'We're hoping to raise a significant amount from people who have never heard of us,' but who learn of the effort through the media generated along the course, Johnston says.

The race is dedicated to Barry M. Wald, a close friend of Johnston's since high school in Wellesley, Mass., and a veteran runner himself. Wald, an employee of Intel who ran on Johnston's team in seven Hood to Coast relays, is no longer able to run. Wald has the particular form of muscular dystrophy that Johnston describes as 'the poor stepchild in terms of research.' All money raised from the relay will be funneled to researchers who concentrate on myotonic dystrophy.

Wald, a hockey goalie during his college years at Harvard University, still plays hockey. He also rides his bicycle to work and hopes to cycle part of the way in Run America. But he had to stop running because of muscle deterioration in his legs, he says. Wald adds that although he does not know all of the participants in the relay, he is touched that the team wants to undertake such an effort in his behalf.

Relay team members bring widely varied running backgrounds. Many have run once or several times as members of the Endangered Species, Johnston's 12-person team in the annual Hood to Coast relay. Ten are members of the Oregon State Bar; six are licensed with bars from other states; five are current law students or graduates who have not yet passed the bar; and two runners hold J.D. degrees but aren't practicing law.

As an example of contrasts, team member Nick Burns, who serves as the U.S. ambassador to Greece, is a tennis player who, Johnston says, has not run long distances. At the other end of the spectrum: Johnston describes Matt Cato as the most talented runner on the team. Cato, who works in shoe design at Nike, ran track and cross country at the University of Notre Dame. Cato has run seven marathons and numerous relays.

Among other OSB members running: Oregon City attorney William Barber is the only other former college runner on the team. The University of Georgia graduate has run four marathons. John Kroger, a professor of law at Lewis & Clark, already has gone across the United States - by bicycle, in a solo trip last year. Two attorneys at Lewis & Clark's Pacific Environmental Advocacy Center who have run the Hood to Coast on Johnston's team are Aaron Courtney and Daniel J. Rohlf, director of the center.

Nancy E. 'Ned' Duhnkrack, a lawyer who works half time with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Portland, is a mother and will be one of only two women participating. She has run five marathons and will run one week of Run America. Duhnkrack, who also is an adjunct professor of law at Lewis & Clark, considers being asked an honor, and says, 'This is really an exciting opportunity for me to turn my running into something that is not just for me.'

Duhnkrack gained greater interest in running during law school at Lewis & Clark, where she graduated first in her class and was a classmate of Craig Johnston's. She takes the challenge of next year's relay seriously, and says it will be tougher than a marathon. 'I've been trying to figure out how to run at a decent pace for seven days without getting injured or overdoing it,' she says. 'I usually get warmed up after four or five miles, so I said jokingly that maybe I could do both my five-mile runs at once.'

To prepare, she will 'focus more on cross training, so I'm physically stronger all over, to compensate for the stress and strain. I'll put in those miles, but not like training for a marathon.'

For remarkable profiles in running, none can top that of OSB member William C. Hodge. Hodge will be 60 for Run America 2002. He will run the entire course, all four weeks. He has run exactly 80 marathons as of this writing. But, he says from his outpost for the past 30 years in New Zealand as a professor of law at the University of Auckland Law School, to prepare for the relay, 'I am running the occasional marathon, five so far in 2001.' He says this, occasional, in mid-May, presumably with a straight face.

'While I have lost some speed in the last few years, my endurance seems better, if anything, than it was 30 years ago,' says the modest Hodge, who describes his background as 'a slow middle-distance runner in high school, too slow to run in college.… Once I started running marathons, I found I had a bit of talent for it, and it kept me fit.'

Hodge, who retains his American citizenship, agreed to take part for several reasons. It will allow his family 'a good excuse to visit Portland, which is why my wife was keen for me to do it.' He also had run once in the Hood to Coast 'with most of these same people, including the person for whom the medical research is most relevant.' Third, he posits, a road trip from coast to coast has 'an irresistible American attraction.… A bit of Jack Kerouac, a bit of Huckleberry Finn, Route 66, etc.'

Hodge will take four weeks off by combining some annual leave with the semester breaks at school. He runs to and from work and long distances on weekends. 'I run with my colleagues and some practitioners, and after a two-hour run, relevant facts and legal principles seem to fall naturally in place. Decisions seem to write themselves while I run.' He once set a goal of running 60 marathons by the time he was 60; but given that he passed that mark long ago, now his 'only goal is to finish the next one that I start.'

OSB member David J. Cummings, who serves as legal counsel to the Nez Perce Tribe in Lapwai, Idaho, says he received an excited call from Craig Johnston. 'I thought that Craig had come up with some great new idea for a case we were litigating together,' says Cummings. 'Instead, he suggested I should consider running across the country!'

Cummings says he nearly fell out of his chair, but told Johnston he would think about it. 'Amazingly, by the time I got back to him a week later, nearly all the spaces were filled,' says Cummings. He runs during the week, and saves weekends for 'exploring,' hiking and skiing. The tribe, which experiences high rates of diabetes and heart disease, encourages employees to exercise: Employees who do are allowed a full hour for lunch break, so he takes advantage of the time for training.

'We've got a great hill behind the office that should get me ready for the rigors of the (Grand) Tetons, and I'm planning to run from home to work in the morning and back in the evening; which, while flat, will get me used to running twice a day. After running the Hood to Coast and Rainier to Coast, I've found that the most challenging things are those you can't train for - like being cramped into a van for days on end.'

Kevin Cassidy, who was a student in Johnston's environmental law class, will graduate from law school the day before the run begins next May. A dedicated athlete, he says he ran the Portland Marathon once but so far has concentrated on soccer, basketball and other sports rather than competitive running. More recently, he has undertaken demanding pursuits such as telemark skiing and mountaineering, including climbing Mount Rainier and the Grand Tetons in Wyoming, 'both of which will certainly test your endurance. But I'll be preparing by running as much as possible during the course of the next year.'

When Johnston told the class he was planning Run America and looking for volunteer runners, it took Cassidy only about 24 hours to decide to go for it. 'I think at first (Johnston) thought he was going to have to do some real recruiting to find people as crazy as he was to actually run across the country,' Cassidy allows. 'But as it turned out, he's had to turn people away.' Cassidy thinks the reason is a combination of Johnston's 'exuberance and enthusiasm, and the real potential we have to raise some big money for a great cause.

'Initially I was attracted to the adventure and challenge of the event. The more I've learned since then about myotonic dystrophy, the more inspired I've become by the cause of helping to find a cure. As a lifetime athlete, I value my ability to lead a very active life, and that's exactly what this disease can take away from you, and eventually more. If I can play any small part in figuring out this disease, then I will feel that I will have done something worthwhile, and hopefully, helped some people.

'The way Craig has set up the run, each runner won't be running more than 10 miles per day. The ability to run long distances won't be as important as the ability of your body to withstand the continuous day in, day out pounding the pavement over the course of four weeks, in some unpredictable conditions. So I'll be gearing my training towards that type of endurance.'

Cassidy adds that he will be studying for the bar exam during the run. 'But our vans will be full of lawyers and law professors, so I figure if I have any questions, I'll be able to get them answered.'

Margi Lifsey of Stoel Rives says her colleagues not only were supportive of her participating in Run America, they also are largely responsible for the fact she will run all four weeks.

'When I first heard the idea (of the run), I was very hesitant,' she recalls. 'I said, 'Only one week,'' - not owing to the running itself ('I always knew I could do the miles.') - but because she was concerned about taking that much time away from work. But she signed on for the entire four weeks after colleagues told her, 'You can't run (just) half of America!' Many also have pledged donations to her for doing the relay.

Lifsey says she has always been a tomboy, but became a serious runner only about four years ago. She credits Johnston, whom she met while she was in law school. 'Lewis & Clark has a long history of good runners,' Lifsey says. 'I think I was the first woman to break into that group.' She says Johnston pushed her to raise her number of miles, and before long she was running marathons: the Portland three times, and the Boston Marathon (which she qualified for on her first try) twice.

'Boston was amazing, and very rough. Hard on the legs. The first time I said I would never do it again.' But she changed her mind, impressed by the unique experience of running with people from all over the world.' Of Run America, Lifsey says: 'The idea completely excites me. And it's for a good cause.'

Michael A. Greenlick, of the Portland firm Borg, Strom & Greenlick, agreed to run for one of the four weeks. A former road racer who had done some marathons, he has not run seriously in the past five years after going into private practice. A 12-year-old client helped persuade him to do Run America.

'At the time (Johnston asked him), I happened to be representing someone who had muscular dystrophy.' Greenlick decided to do it based on that. 'Its a unique contribution and will be a lot of fun,' he says.

Another factor was that having a goal forces him to get back into shape, Greenlick adds. Plus, he will see parts of the country he has never visited, and meet new people. 'I think it's going to be great, and a model for future fund raising. Runners are crazy and do things like this.'

John Bradley ran 100-mile races 'when I was younger - in my early 50s,' he says. Bradley, first assistant to the district attorney of Multnomah County, will be 57 when the run begins next year. He didn't take up running until he was 37 but he has more than made up for lost time, with more than 40 marathons under his belt and more than 15 ultramarathons (which he defines as from 31 to 100 miles).

Bradley also opted to do the entire four weeks. He says he has run in a lot of relays where he ran a section, but always regretted not being able to do the entire thing. This way, he can. He also says he long has wanted to drive across the country. Bradley adds that his family and employer have been supportive about taking that much time off.

To prepare, Bradley will train by running in the 'high 40s to low 50s each week,' and will tackle three or four marathons prior to the event. He says he has been fortunate in avoiding serious injuries, but that once runners train averaging 40 to 50 miles a week, they are at greater risk of injury. The biggest factor, he acknowledges, is his age: He says if he were 47 instead of 57 by then, Run America would not be a problem. +

The team's website is www.runamerica.org. Each participant is accepting pledges. Tax-deductible contributions, either a lump sum or per-mile pledge, may be made to the Run America Foundation. Contact Craig Johnston, president, 10015 S.W. Terwilliger Blvd., Portland, Ore. 97219; telephone (503)-768-6713; e-mail: craigj@lclark.edu.


Cliff Collins is a Portland-area free-lance writer and frequent contributor to the Bulletin.

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