DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — After running 3,191 miles across the United States, Tommy Locklin finally had his day in the sun.
Saturday’s finale at Ormond Park in sunny Daytona Beach set the backdrop to the final mile of Locklin’s improbable and inspiring run which began last September in Seattle. As the road gave way to the luscious sands of Daytona, support finally appeared in droves as Locklin was joined by dozens of his newest admirers, and several who have been there all along.
The More Than Just Miles initiative, for which Locklin has been running in support of fundraising to find a cure for Cystic Fibrosis (CF), were all on hand. Some of the gracious people whom friended Locklin along the way were there too, both children and adults as those tired feet and sore limbs finally were able to come to rest to open arms and hearts.
The run began on September 22 as a tribute to his little buddy, Ethan Clem, who celebrated his fourth birthday Saturday with Tommy and dozens of new friends. Clem, who hails from New Paris, just knew Locklin was ‘running a really long way’. Where the adventure would lead was anyone’s guess. The Clem family had no idea if April 13 would ever happen.
“We never imagined Tommy would be able to do this,” Ethan’s mom, Laura, said earlier in the week. “It was very encouraging for us to know Tommy would do something like that for Ethan. But we didn’t realize the impact he would have on all the people he met along the way.”
One of those was a gentleman Locklin mentioned is Jerry, whom he referred to as his ‘cheese lovin’ brother.’ Jerry has CF, and per Locklin, was ready to give up as the pain and the daily treatments had beat him down. He was ready to die. Upon finding out about the run, Jerry decided to give life another chance. He lost 15 pounds, and has a new lease on life. He has hope.
“That’s why I do this, man, for guys like Jerry,” Locklin said over the phone Sunday afternoon while enjoying a little family time at Universal Studios. “When you hear about stories like that, or some of these little kids who are barely a year old, and what they go through.” Locklin paused, and offered, “It makes everything I do, which seems so small, completely worth it.”
For guys like Ethan and Jerry, CF is a daily struggle. The disease is inherited, which builds a sticky mucus that attacks the lungs, pancreas and other organs. CF not only makes it hard to breathe when the mucus builds in airways in the lungs and pathways in the pancreas, but the mucus can force shutdowns in digestion. There currently is no government funding for research, which is where fundraising by the More Than Just Miles Foundation is so vital to so many families.
Ethan takes three to five meds just to relieve his breathing, according to Laura, as well as 15 pills daily to help with his digestion.
The run by Locklin raised over $10,000 through the MTJM Foundation. Locklin’s final 100 miles, which we’ll get to in a moment, raised over $2,000 by itself.
The city of Daytona Beach, best known for hosting wild spring break fiestas and home to some of the best summer vacationing in Florida, welcomed Locklin’s arrival with a real day in the sun. April 13, proclaimed by the city, is now “Tommy Danger Day”. Quite an honor bestowed upon a small-town boy from Millersburg and Wawasee High School graduate. As autograph seekers clamored for their shirts and hats to be signed, Locklin was taken aback by just what was really going on.
“I’ll tell ya, that was amazing,” Locklin said of the recognition and adoration. “People were coming up to me wanting my autograph. It’s not worth anything to me, but I guess to them it’s worth something.
“I’m just a guy from Millersburg. It was mind-blowing and crazy. But to me, its bigger than just me, it’s about More Than Just Miles. When the mayor of Daytona Beach hands me a plaque telling me it’s Tommy Danger Day, I said it really is a day for Cystic Fibrosis. But let’s be honest, this isn’t just Millersburg. This is Daytona Beach. Crazy.”
So, about the final 100 miles of Danger’s run. He wouldn’t have to make the trip alone, as long-time friend Rob Lykins joined up for the Friday push. Lykins has experience running ultra marathons, and was up for the final 100-mile adventure. As if Danger would have it any other way.
The group left its marker point at 12:07 p.m. Friday between the towns of Lake Butler and Starke. No problems really as a handful of individuals, including Lykins wife, Catherine, and filmmaker and fellow distance runner, John Burkett of Columbia City, logged miles. As darkness fell on the Florida sky, the group were in good shape, about 60 miles covered with over 12 hours to go.
But as driver Timothy Ettridge, who has spotted Danger from Day One and is a native of the area noted, life would become interesting in a hurry.
“I dropped them off at 1:30 a.m. on a road that was showing on our GPS, and it looked OK,” Ettridge explained. “Tommy said, ‘If you don’t hear from me by 4 a.m., then start to worry.’ Well, the tracking app had him going along an area that was fenced off, and for a while I didn’t hear from him. I started taking screen shots, just in case I needed to tell the sheriff where to look. It finally updated and he was on the right road. At 3:55 a.m. he emerged.”
“Yeah, we were in some serious redneck, banjo playing woods,” Danger stated, making no bones about the description of the desolate, unpopulated area. “The van could not even go through there. Rob took off with me, and we’ll see everyone in two-and-a-half hours.
“It was eight inches of soft sand,” Danger continued. “I was straight up David Hasselhoffing it. Then I started to hear big things run around. Not squirrels. But big (stuff). They had fences to keep bears out. We were in super bear zone. We got through that and our shoes were loaded with sand. I could feel every step in my quads. I don’t know what was out there watching us, but I didn’t want to find out.”
So the unreal journey Danger and friends took, of course, had to have some kind of twist. But as his dusty locks and blistered feet finally found civilization again, there was no stopping him.
At 12:46 p.m. a text from Locklin’s number simply stated, “All Done”, signifying the culmination of the Final Mile, which is what Burkett was on hand to film. Burkett then was set to edit his film (see trailer above) and present it at the Boston Marathon Movie Festival Monday. It’s unknown, and insignificant, if the film was shown Monday in light of the bombings at the marathon in Boston.
Locklin claimed he would be emotional Saturday finishing the run. The final mile had him joined by a bikini-clad dance team, to which he was a different type of emotional. At the finish line, after embracing his parents, Gary and Wanda Gearheart, he finally let loose. He again had a few tears while addressing the masses on the beach.
Sunday was spent with his family and friends at Universal Studios, and Monday with the Clem’s and others at Disney World. It was well worth it, for the local boy gone hero to take it all in at the Magical Kingdom.
“Ethan was so excited to see Tommy and meet several of his CF friends, from a distance of course,” Laura said from Florida. “Knowing there are other kids who wear a vest every day makes him feel not alone in the fight.
“I am having a hard time finding words.”
For the Clems, Jerry, Timothy and Tommy, and all of the people along the way, it truly was a speechless show of love back and forth.
It was a magical journey. One step at a time.