Crossing the country for a cure

10/3/2013

Trio walking across U.S. to raise money to help cancer fight.

Trio walking across U.S. to raise money to help cancer fight.

BY SCOTT AUST

saust@gctelegram.com

Three friends from Connecticut are a bit more than halfway through a 4,000-mile walk across the United States to raise money for the Livestrong Foundation and the fight against cancer.

Michael Ross, George Crawford and Drew Babcock, all 19, have known each other since sixth grade. They started their journey on April 21 at Danbury, Conn., and intend to finish in Huntington Beach, Calif.

During an interview Wednesday afternoon at the Garden City American Red Cross office, Ross served as spokesman for the trio while his two friends sacked out in a motel.

"After George and I enlisted in the Marines, we were working minimum wage jobs, which is useless when you're about to join the Marines," Ross said. "So we were like, 'Dude, we've got to do something.'"

Ross and Crawford enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and are in the delayed entry program waiting to be shipped out. Babcock is considering the Army. After military service, Ross wants to study sound engineering and Crawford's goal is to become a linguist and teach English in Japan. Babcock is unsure about his future goals.

The idea to walk across America originated when Crawford planned to move back to California with his family until deployment, and Ross thought he'd go, too.

"I was like, 'Let's just walk there,'" Ross said. "Which seems like a crazy idea at first. I never heard of anybody doing it, and he kind of gave me a funny look. We looked it up online and saw others had done it, so we decided right then to do it."

A month later, they were on the road.

During their travels, they've walked through some pretty country and some awful urban ghettos. One constant has been the kindness and generosity of people they've met along the road.

People willing to let the young men camp out in their yard for a night to an inner city drug dealer who gave them a donation and invited them into his house for water and food.

"We've walked through the worst parts of almost every city we've been through. Chicago. Pittsburgh. Columbus. If anything, we've actually had people welcome us with open arms in those places," Ross said.

Many people have offered them showers, food, and a place to sleep indoors.

"Since Chicago, we've only been in tents six times, which is something we never expected. People put us up in motels, and the other night somebody put us up in their basement," Ross said. "People have been so kind in the Midwest. There's just been a big, big difference here."

They have no support team. It's just the three of them. Ross said it's more fun that way because they get to experience people's genuine love and kindness.

As they walk the road, people are drawn to the large American flag they carry.

The flag caught the attention of Carolyn Henry, executive director of the Western Kansas chapter of the Red Cross, as she drove to Dodge City on Tuesday for a meeting. She wondered what the three young men were doing, but didn't stop. On Wednesday, Henry learned the men were staying in Garden City for an additional day and might need some help so her husband, Merle, offered to put them up in a motel for the night.

"I'm so glad I got to meet them. They are amazing kids. They really are. And their mission is amazing to me. We all have missions, and theirs is to be respected," she said. "I've spent some time with all three of them today and found them to be really neat young men who believe in a cause. Cancer touches everybody. My best friend died of cancer, and I watched her die. I would do anything to not see that again."

Ross said the number varies, but people pull over and talk to the group and learn about why they are walking. Some contribute right away, but most donations — they've raised $4,200 so far with a goal to raise $20,000 — go through their website, www.walkingforacure2013.com.

Ross said they have more than 8,500 followers on Facebook right now. Money raised goes to Livestrong, the nonprofit organization formerly associated with Lance Armstrong that provides support for people affected by cancer. He said they researched the company, looked at their financials and talked to people with Livestrong and came away impressed.

"They were the most passionate people about what they do that we have ever met. I mean, they love their day-to-day work. They do all the little things, like rides to treatment when you can't afford it. They don't necessarily just pay for things you need done. They find people who can help," Ross said.

After they decided to walk to California, Ross said the men also decided to raise money for cancer at the same time. All three have had loved ones affected by cancer. Ross' step-mother died from breast cancer three years ago. Crawford's grandmother had cancer, and he took care of her for about a year. And Babcock's grandmother's cancer is in remission.

"We thought we were in a pretty unique situation to help others, so why not? We've seen what it does to people, and it's just ugly. We'd like to see something get done about it," Ross said.

So far, the group has walked about 2,800 miles through Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana, up to Chicago, then to Kansas City and down to U.S. Highway 50. The next leg of the trip takes them into Colorado and down to Santa Fe, N.M., then across Arizona to California. A fourth man will join the group in Santa Fe — Dion C., a friend from back in Connecticut — for the remainder of the walk.

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