As 48-year-old Christian Griffith ran through a relentless blizzard in Ohio, the sweltering heat of Iowa, and the perilous roads of California, he thought about why he was enduring all that when he could have been with his girlfriend and newborn baby at home in Jacksonville, Florida.
Almost every day for five months was gruelingly the same: get up, run, sleep, repeat. “The Groundhog Day effect,” Griffith said, referring to the popular Bill Murray movie.
Some days he didn’t want to run at all.
But his epic journey from New York to San Francisco, California, wasn’t just a personal feat of endurance: it was for a greater cause that gave him the motivation he needed to keep going.
Griffith left New York on March 19, 2018, running to raise money and awareness to combat child abuse. Griffith is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse himself. He has completed over 100 marathons and ultra-marathons, but this run, entitled “Run2Heal,” was far longer than anything he had ever tackled before.
When he finally reached his destination on Aug. 22, he couldn’t quite believe it was over—or that he had achieved so much.
“Everything that I thought it would be, it wasn’t. Everything that did happen, I never expected,” Griffith told Humanity the following day.
A Big Idea
Griffith was running for Help For Children, a global nonprofit organization that provides grants for preventing and treating child abuse. He first connected with the organization over a year ago when he was running the Tortola Torture, a 34-mile ultra-marathon in the British Virgin Islands.
“He talked to me about his own abuse history, and his desire to give back and affiliate with a charity that was about action,” Renee Skolaski, CEO of Help For Children, told Humanity.
“He’s a guy that’s all about action, and so by running he’s taking his action by raising [child abuse] as an issue.”
Griffith’s mother sexually abused him starting at age 13. A number of men also sexually abused Griffith during his adolescent years. He kept the abuse to himself for 30 years, and engaged in a number of unhealthy behaviors as an adult in order to cope.
He was manipulative, controlling, and shaming toward the women he had relationships with. That was until he met the love of his life, Lindsay, who called him out for his behavior. She would be the first person Griffith confided in about the abuse, and the first step on his path to overcoming it.
Griffith ultimately sought therapy and treatment in order to confront his past. He also knew he wasn’t the only person who had ever suffered in this way.
According to a study cited by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated one out of four children in the United States experience some form of child abuse or neglect in their lifetimes.
“We are all one or two degrees of separation away from this as an issue, whether we acknowledge it or not, or even if we are aware or not,” Skolaski said. “We might not be aware because people are not talking about it.”
As an extreme endurance athlete, Griffith wanted to use his abilities to raise awareness about child abuse and encourage people to talk about it. That’s when he came up with his big idea.
Many people had run a marathon for a cause, but nobody had run across the entire country for one.
Run to Heal
His intrepid mission would be filled with joy, pain, and a number of surprises along the way.
Setting off, there was a significant amount of fear of the unknown, Griffith said. He worried about his ability to maintain his regimen of running 30 miles a day for five months. He worried about being away from his girlfriend, who gave birth to their daughter while he was on the road.
The surprises came in both positive and negative forms. Griffith received more support for his cause than he had anticipated. He also endured more injuries than he could possibly have imagined.
“I got hungrier than I’ve ever been before; I ran longer than I’ve ever run before; [and] I saw things and places that I’ve never seen before,” he said.
The weather only added to the physical and mental difficulty of his cross-country run. He had to contend with a long, merciless winter when he was crossing through the Northeast. Then, when he crossed into Iowa, the weather shifted to being immediately sweltering hot.
“The way I was crossing the country there was really no spring. It’s like I went from lake-effect nasty winter spots to wide open plains that were really, really hot. And then because I went east to west, I suffered a significant amount of headwinds throughout the way because of the Jet Stream,” Griffith explained.
And on his last leg of his journey, he discovered that a lot of California’s roads lack a shoulder, making them the most hazardous of all the roads he ran on.
“It’s kind of ironic, but California is not a pedestrian-friendly state in a lot of places,” Griffith said. “Running in California was pretty scary. … I took quite a few trips into the ditch,” he added with a chuckle.
There was only one thing the former “American Ninja Warrior” contestant had to push through the adverse conditions: will power.
The mission kept Griffith on course. Every time he felt sorry for himself, he would think about the people who were counting on him and others who had suffered sexual abuse as children. While Griffith was determined to give every survivor a voice, he wanted to be an example for men to be able to talk about their abuse as well.
“To have someone who is a tough guy, who is cool and hip, tattooed, be vulnerable is incredibly powerful,” Skolaski explained. “To get to know Christian, to appreciate what he’s gone through and his willingness to be candid and share stories is not common, and especially for a guy.”
It wasn’t just his cause that motivated him to keep going. He wanted to finish the run and get back home where Lindsay and his daughter were waiting for him.
“As I got closer it drove me more and more,” he said. “I really wanted to get done; I wanted to get home; I wanted to see my family. It was a long journey.”
Everywhere he went there were people coming out to support him.
“That’s been the amazing part is the people. I came out here to inspire and motivate people, and I feel like I’ve done that,” Griffith explained.
“I just kind of envisioned that I was going to be this dude running down the road for five months. [But] people’s support in local areas, everything from buying me meals to taking me to their houses, to me doing speaking engagements at various youth centers, it was just way bigger than I ever imagined it to be. Every day was a surprise.”
When Griffith was running through Ohio in some inclement weather, he saw a woman standing in the rain across from his trailer in a parking lot. She had found Griffith on the live map showing his location on the route of his run, and had come all the way out to meet him. He walked over to her, and she embraced him. She told him she had adopted a 12-year-old girl who had also been sexually abused. She had waited in the pouring rain to tell him how much what he was doing meant to her.
Another day, Griffith met a law enforcement instructor in a small town in Iowa, and the man decided to run a leg of the journey with him. He took Griffith on a tour of the town, and afterward the officer invited Griffith and his crew for a big home-cooked dinner.
Many people came out to run with Griffith, including survivors of childhood sexual abuse. When he had someone running with him, it made the trek easier. As they ran they would share experiences and stories with each other. It was a sometimes difficult but empathetic experience.
“It was always fulfilling. I felt rich after each of those experiences of having someone with me,” Griffith said.
“It also gives me fuel to keep going because I’m like, man, look at how much better this person feels because they talked about it with me. Look how much better I feel for being able to be that instrument of change for them just like someone was that instrument of change for me.”
Crossing the Finish Line
It was these kinds of experiences that would propel him to the finish line in San Francisco, California, on August 22, 2018. After five months and over 3,000 miles he had finally made it.
His girlfriend Lindsay and his daughter were there waiting for him at the end, and that’s when something else truly special happened. He brandished a ring and proposed, turning the attention back onto the woman who had been instrumental in his healing.
“It was so emotional,” he said.
For Griffith, the run was a life-changing experience.
“I lived pretty much my entire life without purpose. Now, having done something with purpose, and I’m going to continue to advocate in this direction, having a purpose feels pretty good.”
Griffiths has so far raised $300,000 towards his goal of raising $1 million for Help For Children.
His advice for anyone who has suffered abuse: “If you really want to heal, if you really want to get better, you want to break the cycle—talk to someone, anyone that you believe loves you and will help and support you and get on the path to recovery. It really is the only way to heal and I truly believe it to be a path of happiness.”