Daren Wendell fought potent winds as he gritted out another mile in his 100-day marathon binge.
He was in Texas, tennis shoes pounding the pavement, heart banging inside his chest. The wind was nasty, whipping across barren plains at a clip of up to 48 miles per hour.
The Canton South High School graduate summoned what strength he had left and forged ahead.
“It’s rough,” Wendell said of the gusty conditions last week in the Texas Panhandle. “You just go back to training … (and) why you’re doing what you’re doing … (and) you remind yourself it will be worth it.
“We’ve had a lot of great sunny, awesome days and only a few rough windy, snowy, rainy days,” the 33-year-old said. “You’ve got to take the good with the bad.”
Wendell is at roughly the midway point of his ambitious run to raise money to provide safe drinking water for 2,500 people in Ethiopia. The coast-to-coast trek started Jan. 1 from Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles. The final destination is Times Square in New York City on April 10.
Under the moniker of “RunDarenRun,” he’s raising money — roughly $70,000 so far — for a Lifewater International project in southeastern Ethiopia, including health and hygiene education. The fundraising goal is $100,000.
“The real reason I’m doing this is I feel like everyone has gifts and passions that I believe are given by God that we should use to help those in need,” the Stark County native said.
The endeavor is rigorous. Wendell rises with the sun, beating roads and dirt paths regardless of weather conditions. He runs an average of 29 miles per day, burning an estimated 6,000 calories.
Running hours usually span from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Other people sometimes join him along the route, including five runners on a recent leg in Oklahoma. His wife, Danielle, also runs at his side for up to 16 miles some days.
The pace isn’t the objective. Darren Wendell averages 10 to 11-minute miles. Completing the roughly 3,000-mile run is the mission. Sometimes that requires walking up a daunting incline to conserve energy. Food and stretching breaks also help.
Joining the couple on the trip are one or two crew members. They help plot the route, prepare meals, contact news outlets, refill his running bottle, restock his supply of nutrition gels and handle the maze of logistics involved.
They’ve met people, discovered churches, and found campgrounds or truck stops or church parking lots to anchor their travel trailer for the night.
“The most rewarding part is the people that we meet,” Danielle Wendell said Monday from Oklahoma. “So many times … we’re invited into a home, and I feel that we’re honored because we’re strangers. To be given trust in their home and offered food is just a big deal.
“What I found is there are truly good people everywhere,” she added.
FROM STATE TO STATE
This isn’t the first time Wendell has tested his physical limitations. In 2005, he cycled across the country. A few years later, the former high school soccer player walked a similar route. Another feat was swimming across Lake Michigan — a 50.6-mile traverse conquered over the course of 39 hours, without sleep or breaks, Wendell recalled.
“I try to choose something different every year,” he said. “A big, long-distance endurance challenge for a platform to help those in need.”
The journey has taken him through metropolitan areas and remote hamlets. Past gorgeous landscapes. Past desert cacti. Over snowy terrain. Under the rays of blazing sunlight. The route: California. New Mexico. Texas. Oklahoma. Missouri. Illinois. Indiana. Pennsylvania. Ohio.
After the cross-country marathon is finished, Wendell plans to return to the Canton area with his wife to live.
Wendell, who graduated in 2003 from Kentucky Christian University, cofounded Activewater. The group now is the athletic division of the nonprofit Christian-based Lifewater International, said Wendell, who majored in youth and family ministry.
Wendell will base his continued efforts out of Stark County upon his return to the area.
Danielle Wendell says her husband wants his good works to have a lasting impact.
“At the end of his life he wants to know that he gave to the world instead of just taking from it, that he left something behind.”