He had never run in a marathon before. He had never even completed a 5K. But it was always in the back of Albie Masland’s mind to run across the country.
Disenchanted with law school and driven by a hunger to thank America’s veterans, the 28-year-old Pennsylvania native began the 2,900-mile journey across the United States with a mission. The run is called “Operation Amerithon,” which Masland launched along with Bullets2Bandages, an accessories and apparel maker. Together, they’ve raised more than $28,500 for the Travis Manion Foundation, which helps veterans and the families of fallen service members.
Last October, Masland found himself at a transition point.
“I found myself thinking about the news of the time,” he said, referring to American troops returning home from overseas. “I started thinking (about) the transition from combat to civilian life.”
While not a veteran himself, Masland wanted to “channel all this energy spent running, to have a positive impact for others.” Which is why he began the long trek on March 17, from just south of Los Angeles in Dana Point, Calif. His run is slated to end in Washington, D.C., on August 18.
“I have a lot of respect for the people that serve and are courageous in battle. I can’t imagine,” he said.
That’s something that hits close to home for Bullets2Bandages co-founders Erik Spalding and Cole Evans, who both served as Naval Explosive Ordnance Disposal officers. The two also graduated the Naval Academy in 2004, at the same time as Manion — who was killed in 2007 while serving for the Marines in Iraq.
Coming out of the military, Spalding found it only natural to merge his entrepreneurial interests with a public service role, and Bullets2Bandages was born. This San Diego-based company takes once-fired bullets and transforms them into jewelry. It’s a sort of socially-charged fashion statement, where proceeds are raised for veteran organizations. The company is supporting Masland’s run along the way by getting the word out.
At the end of the day, Spalding said, helping veterans reaccalimate to society is “not to take pity on them,” but rather “to bring to light that we’ve lived in a different world.”
“It’s not that people are looking for a handout,” Spalding said. “People want to go back and get jobs, get over being disabled.”
Cross-country on foot
Currently, Masland is near Irwin, Pa., and has already tallied more than 2,630 miles. His travel companions – sister Hilary Masland and friend Alex Hyman – are along for the journey in a car, meeting Masland every four miles on the road to give him water and food.
With record-breaking heat across much of the country this summer, they had to plan around the elements.
Around two or three in the afternoon, “it felt like the air had been marinating you,” Masland said, adding that he’d sometimes go through three shirts a day. To beat the temperatures, he started running at five in the morning.
At 26 miles a day, it’s no easy feat. But despite being “sore as hell,” he keeps it all in perspective through Manion’s story.
“When I’m feeling weak, I try to channel some energy from him,” he said.
He hopes this cross-country run raises awareness of veterans’ issues, and he stays motivated by that larger goal.
“I think if I was just running across the country for me, I would probably still be in Illinois,” he said.
Along the way, the trio have tried to stop and interact with veterans. Masland says the reaction to what he’s doing is a surprised “wow” at first, but then always followed by appreciation and a thank you.
Masland is only about eight days away from his hometown of Carlisle, Pa., before he tackles the final 112-mile stretch to Washington D.C. A small celebration is being planned outside Arlington National Cemetery for the August 18 finale.
To track Albie Masland’s progress, visit www.operationamerithon.com.
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