DELPHOS — Jason Lester used to sit on the floor as a 12-year-old, plotting out how he might run across America when he was older.
Now he’s making that dream come true, including a stretch through Van Wert and Allen counties on Wednesday. The Nike-sponsored ultra-endurance athlete is equally consumed with helping others rebuild after Hurricane Sandy.
“It seems people forget easily that there are lives affected. There are over 60,000 people who don’t have homes back ion New Jersey and New York from Hurricane Sandy,” Lester said.
Lester runs 60 to 65 miles per day. On Wednesday, he started at 5 a.m. and expected to stop at 9 p.m., stopping along the way for short rests and sustenance.
Lester hopes to raise awareness of the ongoing problems in New York and New Jersey coastal communities from Hurricane Sandy’s destruction. Waves For Water’s Operation Rebuild and Restore raises money to post-storm relief in communities. Many people were without insurance, denied by the Federal Emergency Management Agency or had insurance reimbursements too small to cover their full damage.
The group brings in food trucks to help feed people and tries to help families rebuild their lives. It founder is Jon Rose, a surfer and friend of Lester’s.
Lester ran across the area Wednesday afternoon, on his way from Bluffton, Ind. By late afternoon, he was running along State Road between Delphos and Lima. He neared 2,900 miles on his estimated 3,100-mile run from San Francisco on May 5 to New York City.
“We have to take the back country roads,” Lester said, noting the dedication of the crew supporting him along the way. “We stay off the interstates and highways, and people give us looks. They see our huge RV, a 32-footer, that looks like we’re on a presidential campaign, blue with an American flag on the front of it,” he said.
Today he’ll leave Lima for the 60th day of his journey, on his way to Upper Sandusky and on his way through Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He said this part of the journey is somewhat easier than going through mountains in California or over the Rockies, but the weather is more unpredictable, with rainstorms and swings in temperature.
“I’m blown away and amazed by these back country roads, with corn, wheat, soybeans all growing out here,” said Lester, a self-described “city boy.” “It’s what makes the country go around, even the world go around. I’d never imagined this part of the U.S. was such an integral part of where we get our resources. I try to stop as much as possible and talk to farmers and just learn about it.”
Lester hopes to raise $20,000 and plenty of awareness along the way. As of Wednesday afternoon, he raised nearly $17,000 on the run’s website, r-u-n.us. They’ll use the money to help a particular family rebuild.
Lester also has another issue on his mind as he runs. He wears the name of Chase Kowalski, a first-grader and award-winning triathlete who died in the Sandy Hook shooting, on his back. He plans to run an additional 30 miles from New York City to Newtown, Conn., to meet the Kowalski family and tell them about his efforts to spread Chase’s message to live your dream.
He knows he’s closer to his goal with every step he takes.
“I think about it every day, to run down the streets of Manhattan and over to New York City’s city hall,” Lester said. “It’s going to be an amazing feeling. I’ve dreamt about this since I was 12 years old.”