Running his heart out for children

Runner: As George Floyd makes his way on foot from Detroit to Baltimore, he has one goal in mind: raising money to help the kids of this city.

May 25, 2001|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,SUN STAFF

Cars whoosh by on Highway 16 outside of Mercersburg, Pa., as George Floyd stands on the shoulder and chats by cell phone. For a guy run/walking his way from Detroit to Baltimore he sounds really, really strong. He can even laugh - at the right moments.

Floyd's "Run for the Children" turned out to be tougher than he ever imagined. And he knew it was going to be tough. But obstacles only re-inforced his resolve and strengthened his role model stature for the kids he wants to help. Obstacles, he'll tell you, are no excuse to give up.

Downpours, lightning, high winds, even a stress fracture, have slowed but not stopped him, Floyd reports. When he rests, the pain sets in. It's better to keep moving. Then, the pain turns to numbness.

He is running to raise money for cash-strapped Baltimore's Recreation and Parks Department, whose programs and coaches helped keep Floyd on track during his own childhood.

"I want to put my sweat and blood out there so the city can see I'm doing this, and I won't give up on kids, and I don't want them to give up on themselves," Floyd says before leaving for Detroit. "It's either death or the finish line, whichever comes first. There's no room for quitting."

Floyd, an Army operations specialist who grew up in Baltimore, should arrive in Druid Hill Park this evening after a 12-day journey on foot.

An ordinary person might think he had plenty of room for quitting before his epic trek even began. When a promised transport vehicle didn't materialize to take him to Detroit, Floyd, 35, drove his own car. And somewhere close to the start of his run on May 14, he suffered the stress fracture, quashing his hopes of "coasting at a nice airborne shuffle" during the 525-mile journey.

After reaching Toledo, Floyd resorted to a "fast foot march," 24 hours on, four to six hours off. At times, "I would pick up a run, he says. "Coming through the mountains, I would trot down the hills. I'm averaging 58 to 62 miles a day," Floyd says, two days before his estimated time of arrival.

The Army gave Floyd, stationed at Fort Bragg, "permissive temporary duty" so he could train from November until his departure, during which time he ran about 200 miles a month. A believer that "tight abs are also the key to running longer distances," Floyd did 400 crunches three times a day. "That put me at 1,200 for the day, 8,400 for the week and 33,600 for the month."

Floyd also worked out in a pool and downed hundreds of bananas and gallons of electrolyte-rich fluids during his training regimen. Making his way across the Eastern United States, Floyd is sustained by yet more bananas, fig bars, prayers, and music, from Pearl Jam to Marvin Gaye. Bright moments also keep him going. Once, a reporter for a daily newspaper in a small Ohio town waited to greet him in the pouring rain. A little girl gave him an orange. A Best Western motel gave him a free bed.

Every 50 to 60 miles, Floyd changes shoes, donated by a local athletic store. In each previous pair, he records his distance and the closest city.

Zenobia McLendon, associate director for recreation and parks, has stayed in frequent touch with Floyd and his support crew, two Army medics. On Monday, just south of Pittsburgh, Floyd actually overshot his goal. "I talked to the guys in the pace vehicle; they said it's just astonishing what this guy is doing," McLendon says.

She hopes to dedicate the money raised by Floyd's feat to new, citywide programs for kids. Possibilities include golf and lacrosse classes and an expanded tennis program.

She would also like Floyd, who has worked as a security guard in between Army stints, to be a mentor for children within the parks department.

Floyd remembers how the department often came to his rescue. In a martial arts class, "they taught us that ... violence and having a bad attitude was definitely not the way to handle a situation. "There were positive role models to talk to me to relieve anger, stress and resentment. Kids, today, if they don't have that, are just going to learn from the street - negative things."

As word spreads throughout the armed services, contributions to Run for the Children are arriving at a bank account established at County National Bank. His goal is to raise $5 million. It may sound impossible, but so does growing up in certain areas of this city.

"I wake up in the morning and I pretty much think about the task at hand, what I have to do, and why I'm doing it," says Floyd, who was once temporarily homeless and without direction. "When I think about how my neighborhood has turned; we used to be able to go outside and play. Now the grass is all torn up, the hedges are no longer there, there's spray paint on the walls and the houses are boarded up and kids are hanging out on the corners, you know. It's sad."

When Floyd reaches the junction of Liberty Road and the Beltway today, he hopes to pick up speed and start running. He wants to set an example for the most important kids in his life, his two children, Danielle, 9, and "Little George," 10.

"They'll be right there, watching me," he says.

The Department of Recreation and Parks will stage a welcome home event for George Floyd about 6 p.m. today, in front of its administrative offices, 3001 East Drive. For more information, call 410-396-6694.

Those who wish to contribute to "Run for the Children" may send donations to the Run for the Children Fund, National County Bank, 7405 Ritchie Highway, P.O. Box 1210, Glen Burnie 21060-1210.

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