Birmingham native Barclay Oudersluys lends new meaning to the phrase “cross-country” running. The 23-year-old is now in the midst of a 3,200-mile Project Gump run across the country, from California’s Santa Monica Yacht Harbor and Pier to Maine’s Marshall Point Lighthouse to raise money for charity. He began his run in May and expects to finish in mid-August.
SEEN caught up with the University of Michigan nuclear engineering graduate who is planning to attend law school at the University of California Berkley this fall.
“Honestly, I just thought, ‘If Forrest Gump can do it, I can do it,’” Oudersluys said during a break in Walsenburg, Colo., just past the Rocky Mountains headed toward Kansas. “I realize that he’s not real, but it’s a realistic thing to do, so I went for it.”
How did you prepare? I’ve done a few ultra-marathons, but beyond that, it has been mostly long- distance running on my own. I fit in as many miles a week as I could. My biggest fear was logistics: Where am I going to get water? Where am I going to sleep? But once I got out here, things just kind of worked out. I’ve found drinking fountains to fill up water jugs. Things I was stressed about just haven’t turned out to be big deals.
What have you learned about yourself in the process? I think I’ve learned that I really dislike mountains. I used to love them, and maybe I still would if I didn’t have to run over them. But that also doubles as the most challenging part. It’s not so much the going up and down that’s hard — it’s more that you’re running along and all of a sudden you’re at 7,000-feet elevation. Above 5,000 feet, the elevation really starts getting to you. It’s 98 percent mental. You can always go a little bit longer, a little bit further, a little bit faster; but the tricky part is convincing yourself to do that. As long as you refuse to stop, you can basically go forever.
Why are you doing this? I’m hoping to raise $10,000 for the Steps Foundation, which would be enough to build a well in a village without good access to water. Right now, I’ve raised somewhere between $4,000-5,000. Anyone can donate, and I’m always looking for people to join me. You can follow me on Twitter to meet up anywhere on my route. I’ve gotten lots of support from all over. People have been sending me things like food and gear. And I’ve also received a lot of moral support from people all over.
What are your biggest challenges? The tough part is always starting to run. Once I’m running, I can’t quit. I have to get back to the van somehow. I just need to suck it up, get started and the tough part is over. Aside from the obvious shoes and water, other things I’ve really needed are Chap Stick, Pop Tarts and any salty food that I can find.
It’s easy to stay grounded while I’m out here because I always know I’m going to have to run again tomorrow. Missouri has a lot of trails and the Midwest has cities, so I won’t be going days away from civilization. Pennsylvania and New York will start getting cooler, and Vermont and Maine should start to be pretty scenic. But they all definitely have negatives, too, so I can’t really pick a favorite.
What is your life in Michigan like? I grew up in Birmingham but attended college in Ann Arbor for the past five years. Outside of attending class, I spent a lot of time running and with the university’s running club. I watched a lot of sports and played a lot of sports … nothing too exciting.
What don’t people know about you? People generally don’t know that I don’t own any blue jeans and that I know how to juggle.
This run has very little to do with my everyday life. I’ll talk to people and refer to everything that is not in this van or happening to me along the road as the “real world.” I’m just so disconnected from everything that it almost doesn’t seem like I’m still in the same world I usually live in. NS
To donate to Project Gump, visit crowdrise.com/projectgump. Follow Oudersluys on Twitter @projectgump.
— Interviewed by Andrea Zarczynski