All he can do: Illinois man, nearly blind, runs 11,000 miles to raise awareness about cystic fibrosis
Under the hot sun on Wednesday, 62-year-old David Kuhn from DeKalb, Ill., nonchalantly ran 22 miles on the Biesiot Activities Center track.
Kuhn has no connection to Dickinson and doesn’t even reside in North Dakota. This is just one stop of many in his 11,000-mile trek around the perimeter of the country, all in the name of raising awareness and funds for cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease in which excess mucus clogs the lungs and damages the reproductive system.
When he found out his 12-year-old granddaughter, Kylie, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis seven years ago, Kuhn was devastated.
But instead of sitting back, accepting and waiting, Kuhn did the only thing he could. He ran.
On May 15, Kuhn embarked on his “It’s All I Can Do” run from Seattle and headed east.
“This is the only way that I can see to help my granddaughter, is to raise awareness about this disease and raise funds,” Kuhn said.
The “corners” of Kuhn’s path include Seattle; Bangor, Maine; Jacksonville, Fla.; San Diego and back to Seattle. As of Wednesday, Kuhn — who has been running long distances since 1999 — had accumulated 800 miles while running at least 20 miles a day.
Can’t stop, won’t stop
Running 20 miles a day — let alone completing a 11,000-mile journey — is unfathomable to most.
Kuhn, however, adds in another unexpected twist to make his journey more outstanding.
He is blind.
In 1981, Kuhn was hit by a drunk driver and has since been continuously losing his eyesight. Still, Kuhn never let his eyesight get in the way of accomplishing great feats — like completing 24 marathons since 1999.
“Here’s a man with a disability, blindness, that hasn’t slowed him down at all,” said Mike Parke, who is hosting Kuhn this week in Dickinson. “He doesn’t feel sorry for himself at all. He gets out here and does something and raises funds.”
Kuhn has always had a connection and passion for raising money and awareness for children with disabilities. He got started in 1999 with a cross-country triathlon from Santa Barbara, Calif., to New York City.
“It was a fundraiser for children with disabilities who are pursuing athletic goals,” Kuhn said. “They wanted adult athletes with disabilities on the team, too, to be role models for the kids and it turned out the kids are my role models.”
After the triathlon, Kuhn, who initially detested running, told his optometrist about what he’d accomplished, and was roped into competing in the Chicago Marathon with him. Since then, Kuhn has found a deep passion for running and has tried to incorporate it in raising awareness as much as he can.
Plan of attack
Kuhn had mulled over the idea of planning the cystic fibrosis run for years, but didn’t start making concrete plans until he met Renee Kopulos.
He began telling Kopulos about Kylie and her diagnosis, and how he wanted to get the run together. Kopulos pushed him with a simple three-word response: “What’s stopping you?”
Kopulos helped put together a website, Facebook and Twitter accounts, and manages all the logistics of the run from social media to donations, as well as finding running guides and groups for Kuhn. Because he is unable to drive, Kuhn relies on rides and taking the Greyhound to each destination. He depends on Renee for the rest.
“Some of it is very last minute and that’s Renee,” Kuhn said. “She scopes ahead and tries to get me rooms comped or lines up homestays wherever she can. A lot of it is last-minute stuff and she’s able to pull it out. If not for Renee, this run doesn’t happen.”
While the nature and cause for the cross-country run is serious — the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation estimates that 30,000 children and adults in the United States and about 70,000 worldwide are affected by the disease — Kuhn has had some memorable stops that have lightened the mood. At least twice has he been involved in themed runs, including a Forrest Gump run in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and a costume run in Spokane, Wash.
“There were two women who run in costume once a week — I was contacted through a friend of theirs to them — and they said tomorrow’s our costume day and we’d like to know if you want to join in our shenanigans,” Kuhn said with a smile. “They said you can’t tell anybody and you have to promise. It was prom day.
“So the two women dressed up in prom dresses and they found a tuxedo for me and when they do this they have their cellphone and their little tripod and take a lot of pictures themselves.”
Kuhn used to own a trucking company and had traveled across the Midwest and southern states but had never made it to the western part of the country. Although he can’t visually see his surroundings, Kuhn said he has thoroughly enjoyed visiting and learning about the areas.
“I am learning the history of these towns and getting a feel for so many things that go on in them too,” he said. “Like Butte, Mont., I’ve never been to a town where the people know the history so well about their town and its pretty cool to see it.”
On the road again
Kuhn plans to stay in Dickinson until Saturday. He’ll then hit the road once again for his next stop, Bismarck. Although he has just begun when looking at the big picture, Kuhn has picked up attention for his efforts in the running community.
Besides needing a running guide to sometimes help him along the track — though almost completely blind, he is able to still make out the white lines on a track to know where he’s going — he reaches out to running groups to help join him in the cause for the respective areas. Sometimes, the runners find him.
Rev. Bruce Peterson of New England was contacted by his daughter — who is in a running club in Billings, Mont., which ran with Kuhn when he was there — to help spread the word about Kuhn coming to Dickinson. Although he hasn’t had any company since he arrived Monday, Peterson plans to lace up his sneakers and run alongside Kuhn today to support the cause.
“The fact that he’s doing this for his granddaughter,” Peterson said while speaking about why he wanted to run with Kuhn. “I have 10 grandkids, so when you think of one of them being hurt and in need of help, it’s kind of cool he’s doing it. When I heard he was doing 20 miles a day, I thought ‘Wow.’”
Kuhn’s dedication and ability to push past adversity has inspired hundreds of people already. He only hopes his message will spread even more and put another nail in the coffin of cystic fibrosis.
“This is just what I’m gonna do,” Kuhn said.