Sarah Emoto '11
Her parents thought she was crazy.
“I wasn’t sure if they took me seriously at first,” said Sarah Emoto ’11 about her decision to run across the United States.
But ten pairs of Nike running shoes, 14 states and more than 3,000 miles later, people across the nation have taken Sarah’s journey seriously, admiring her tenacity and determination to
honor those who serve.
Sarah, a 22-year-old history major, wasn’t quite ready for “real life” after commencement in May 2011, so she decided to go on to something else—a cross-country run.
Dad Mark Emoto, retired San Bernardino Police Department lieutenant and former interim director of Public Safety at the University, said “it wasn’t a total surprise.” He retired to accompany her.
“Sarah has been running since she was seven, when she ran her first 5K run, and at 14 she ran her first marathon,” he said. “She has run 11 marathons and in April 2011, she ran a 50-mile ultra-marathon.“
Though Sarah knew she wanted to run, it was a message in a high school graduation card from Matthew Bennie, her English teacher at Redlands Adventist Academy, that helped her define why. She wrote about it in her blog, “Chasing Asphalt,” where she chronicled her four-month journey.
“He said, ‘Let God direct your path … especially if it directs you across this great country.’ He’s right, I don’t just get to run across any country, I get to run across this great country, the United States of America.”
“My run across America is going to be dedicated to the brave men and women who selflessly serve our country: the law enforcement officers, members of the Armed Forces, and firefighters who sacrifice themselves for something they believe to be greater than themselves.”
On July 24, Sarah walked down to the water at Huntington Beach—her mom, Cheryl, said the run wouldn’t count if she didn’t touch water on both ends of the trek—and then began to run.
After her first 100 miles, she blogged that she was on a “runner’s high.” That high, she said, only lasted until about Kansas. She was “riding an emotional rollercoaster” with “bursts of euphoric highs, complete meltdowns, melancholy numbness and everything in between.”
“In the beginning, it was the physical challenge, the daily thrashing of my body,” Sarah said. “The latter half, it became a mental challenge. Not because I questioned whether I would finish, but it had always been about pushing myself as hard as I could, and that took its toll on me mentally. What kept me going was knowing that not finishing, or not giving it everything I had, weren’t options.”
“The last two and a half months she was running 30 to 40 miles a day, seven days a week and took no days off,” her father said. “To put that into perspective, a marathon is 26.2 miles, she was running the equivalent of nine to ten marathons per week.”
Sarah blogged about how she kept her mind busy—counting road kill, finding shapes in the cracks on the asphalt and playing the license plate alphabet game. She was also amused by the items she found along the road—a Smurf and seven left shoes among them.
She was encouraged and motivated by the people who ran with her, including short sprints with her mom and grandparents, and the people she met, including New York Police Department retired Det. Luis Alicea, who was a 9/11 responder.
Sarah blogged, “I was so inspired by him that even though I’d run 20-plus miles that morning, I almost felt obligated to go right back out and run more that day. I felt like I owed it to him to just run until I collapsed.”
Some people drove for hours to run with Sarah and others took time off work. Marine Staff Sgt. Seth Lewis ran with her for two days through Twentynine Palms, California in 100-plus degree weather, just before he was deployed to Afghanistan.
“He was a constant source of inspiration for me. He called me [from Afghanistan] the day before I reached New York, to encourage me and congratulate me on finishing,” Sarah said.
In Colorado, University alumnus Dr. Jon McMillan ‘61 stopped along the road to say hello, and they shouted the Och Tamale together. Sarah also visited the Colorado State Veterans Nursing Home. Marty Schlink, who works there as a nursing home administrator, became emotional when she spoke of it.
“Mark let us know that Sarah would be running through. We had about 50 staff and veterans—some standing, some in wheelchairs and some on gurneys,” Schlink said. “It was one of the highlights of my year, meeting Sarah and seeing how what she was doing impacted the spirit of our veterans.”
On Dec. 3, Sarah plunged her feet into the icy water of the Hudson River—mission accomplished! She blogged she was unable to put her feelings into words. More than a month later, she said she still isn’t sure what this will mean to her life.
“I know everyone else sees it as a life-changing accomplishment and success, but right now, to me, it is more of a swirling episode of chaos in my life painfully laid out over 3,000 miles, and I have not yet been able to analyze it to my own satisfaction.”
Sarah said her experience at the University impacted her journey.
“I will say that if I had not gone to Redlands, I probably wouldn’t have embarked on this journey at all,” she said. “I was taught to be an independent thinker, and as an extension of that, an independent member of society who doesn’t necessarily conform to what is expected of me… and to some degree, that is something that was developed at Redlands at an academic and intellectual level.”