It was late on Sunday night, but Ethan Bennett couldn’t sleep. So he did what he’s done for years to deal with stress: He went for a run. Two hours circling around his old Woodbridge neighborhood was enough to clear his mind. The 22-year-old lives for that runner’s high, for being in a zone where it feels like nothing can touch him.
Next year, he’ll be spending a lot of time there as he runs across America to raise money to aid the fight against cancer.
“It’s going to be fun,” he said, grinning. “And miserable.”
Bennett sees each run as a challenge to see how far he can go before his body simply gives up. Running cross-country will require him to face that challenge over and over again for four months. His plan is to hit the 30-mile mark six days in a row and rest on the seventh to complete a total of 3,289 miles.
This demanding timeline commences on June 5, 2012 in New York City and ends in San Francisco, to allow Bennett to literally run coast to coast. Ideally, he would like to kick off his trek on the anniversary of his mother’s death, but that’s three weeks before his college graduation date.
“If I weren’t in school, I’d be running right now,” he said.
For Bennett, this journey will serve as a way to give back to the community that has helped his family through a tough time. He hopes to donate at least $500,000 to Livestrong, an organization that provides support for people affected by cancer, at the end of his trek.
Reminders of his purpose are always close at hand. Bennett sports a gold Livestrong bracelet on one wrist while his cellphone is covered by a black and gold Livestrong case. Even his favorite running shirt is a bold yellow.
There is a simple purpose behind Bennett’s plan: “The experience of watching my mom go through cancer; no one should have to go through that,” Bennett said.
Susan Bennett lost her fight with cancer five years ago. She was first diagnosed with colon cancer when Bennett was a sophomore at Lodi High School. After six months of chemotherapy treatments, Susan was declared cancer-free. But a standard checkup a few months later revealed new tumors had spread to her ovaries. This time the treatments didn’t work. She passed away on May 5, 2006.
To deal with the stress and grief, Bennett spent time with a close circle of family and friends. His parents had divorced before his mom was diagnosed, so Bennett moved to Gilroy to live with his dad and finish up high school.
Always the athletic type, he fell into the running habit to zone out from the chaos of his family’s trauma.
He began toying with the idea of fundraising for cancer research in 2009. The idea didn’t cement itself until Bennett saw a YouTube video of Terry Fox. Fox was a famous Canadian runner and activist who also aimed to make it from coast to coast after he lost one leg to cancer.
“He ran with an artificial leg, in the ’80s,” explained Bennett excitedly. “He made it over 3,000 miles until he was diagnosed with lung cancer and had to stop.”
For Bennett, stories like Fox’s give him hope and make the journey seems possible.
Before he stares down the open road, however, Bennett has a different kind of challenge. He needs to raise enough money to support himself and a small crew of friends and family in an RV while he runs.
“I don’t want them to sacrifice four months of their life, or lose their job,” said Bennett. Ideally, he’d like a team to travel with him for shifts of a few weeks to a month at a time.
Two potential crew members are Daniel and Haley Bennett, Bennett’s siblings. Beyond the family history, Daniel has a very personal reason for supporting his brother’s efforts. The Stockton resident was recently diagnosed with testicular cancer. The Livestrong organization is helping to cover the costs of his medical bills for treatment.
“It’s crazy, but I know he can do it,” said Daniel about his brother’s project. “It’s definitely an awesome and amazing thing to do.”
Bennett’s no professional. For now, he is his own nutritionist and running coach. His training regimen is pretty informal.
“Maybe I’ll do some hills one day, and then sprints, then a long run,” said Bennett. He’s completed a few marathons and half-marathons. He sometimes runs the 20 miles from his home in Incline Village, Nev. to Sierra Nevada College, a private school where he majors in digital arts.
There are some days when Bennett gets tired, when it seems like too much work to put on his shoes and get outside. Not to mention the twin hassles of planning and encouraging donors. It’s enough to make him question the whole project.
“But then I think about why I’m doing it and I’m like, yeah, there’s no question,” he said. “Unless I’m dying, I don’t think anything will stop me. I don’t really mind damaging my body for this.”
When he first created and launched his website, www.runtofight.com, he didn’t expect too much to come of it. But when Helen Luciane, a family acquaintance, got wind of his project, she made a few phone calls and things started happening.
Now he’s working on potential big-name sponsors and fielding conference calls to hash out the logistics of where to sleep and how to pay for the venture. For example, the average running shoe has about three to four hundred miles of life in it before they lose shape and support. Bennett anticipates tearing through at least 20 pairs before he reaches the West Coast.
“In the past month and a half, things have really gone forward, and it’s like, ‘Holy smokes,’” Bennett said, shaking his head in disbelief. There are still eight months to go before he heads east to begin. Bennett anticipates knee problems, blisters and the loss of more than a few toenails, but he shrugs all this off. He can already imagine the feeling of that last mile through the hilly streets of San Francisco.
“That’s gonna be an awesome feeling,” Bennett said, smiling.
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at email@example.com.