People ask me all the time, “Who inspires you, Rich?”
For the most part, the people that inspire me are people you’ve never heard of. Everyman guys like Josh LaJaunie who toil tirelessly yet essentially anonymously to actualize profound personal change. The single dad working two jobs that still finds a way to lose 50 pounds, get off his statin medication and run his first 10K. Or the soldier stationed in the Middle East doing his best to eat plant-based despite confronting tremendous daily obstacles.
Then there are guys like Charlie.
The story of Charlie Engle first found it’s way into my consciousness back around 2006 or 2007. I still vividly recall hearing Charlie relate the facts of his experience in a radio interview he did with a host I cannot recall. What I do recall is just how moved I was by his journey. A story that didn’t just click with me, but one I related to with every fiber of who I am.
Addict. Alcoholic. Sober. Ultrarunner. Father. Felon. Inspiration.
Charlie is a man of very high highs and very low lows. A man with addiction and athletic stories of Gilgamesh proportions that make Finding Ultra sound like pre-school recess. An alcoholic crack addict essentially living out of his car, it took gunshots in his Toyota 4-Runner and the birth of his son in 1992 to finally get sober. Ultrarunning became the focus of his affections, an affair that took him to stunning heights and accolades, the nadir being an unprecedented 111-day run across the Sahara Desert with compadres Ray Zahab and Kevin Lin — a feat chronicled in the Matt Damon narrated documentary entitled Running the Sahara.
Life was pretty good. Certainly not entirely balanced, but hey, nobody’s perfect. He had done some amazing things. Maybe he had a shot at some modicum of happiness after all.
Then came quite possibly the most improbable, unpredictable challenge he could ever imagine facing. A saga with all the trappings of a bad B-movie. An obsessed local IRS agent illogically hell-bent on justice. Wire taps. Garbage probes. And the requisite wily female dispatched to enchant and entrap. A saga culminating in a federal conviction for mortgage fraud for misstating income on so-called “liar loan” documents (something hundreds of thousands of people did), Charlie heads to Beckley Federal Prison in West Virginia. A poster child for everything awry with the mortgage backed security crisis and fallout of recent years, Charlie serves 16 months.
How do you survive something like that?
And yet Charlie comes out the other side not just intact, but quite possibly more whole than when he entered. A man changed by the experience, but maybe more attuned to what really matters.
And a man running better than ever. Just one year after his release, Charlie returned to the Badwater 135 to clock a 5th place finish and break the master’s world record by over 3 hours. Next up? Aside from getting married this weekend, Charlie will attempt to run across the United States faster than any human being ever has previously. A feat he calls Run 2 Boston, Charlie and wheelchair athlete extraordinaire André Kajlic will line up at the LA Marathon on March 9, complete the 26.2 miles and then just keep going. And going. Until they reach Boston, where they will run that marathon. All in an effort to raise funds and awareness for the victim’s of last years’ Boston Marathon bombing. The idea is to complete the distance in 44 days, which means averaging 70 miles a day.
70 miles of running every day for 44 days straight.
Wow. Is that even possible? And after everything he has endured, why? For the nitty gritty, you’ll have to tune in. This is a conversation I’ve been dying to have for a very long time, and it didn’t disappoint. I hope you enjoy it.
By the way, if you haven’t seen Running the Sahara, check it out (you can watch it on Netflix) – here’s the trailer:
P.S. – We’re a TOP FINALIST for a 2013 Stitcher Award for BEST HEALTH + LIFESTYLE PODCAST! Stitcher.com— one of the web’s largest podcast distribution platforms — is currently taking votes through 1/13 to decide the year’s best podcasts. If you have been enjoying the show, do us a solid by heading over there and throwing a vote our way! They permit you to vote once a day every day through 1/13, so I won’t complain if you decide to vote a bunch. Voting closes in less than a week so it would be great if you could do it straight away. But only if it feels right to you. Thanks!
- Running The Sahara
- In Prison For Taking A Liar Loan: NY Times
- Oxford American: Issue 80: Fog Count, by Leslie Jamison
- Outside Magazine: An Ultrarunner’s Long Road Back
- Runner’s World: Record Quest: LA to Boston
- Charlie Engle Website: Running In Place
- Charlie on Twitter: @CharlieEngle
- Charlie on Facebook
- André Kajlic on Facebook
- André Kajlic on Twitter: @wilgodoo
- Run 2 Boston Website
- Run 2 Boston on Twitter: @Run2Boston
- Run 2 Boston on Facebook
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