The 62-year-old former Cherokee resident ran and jogged his way through Cherokee County earlier this week as part of his run across the United States in a personal quest to raise $250,000 for Alzheimer’s awareness
“I’ll come up with something else and I don’t know what it will be,” Fussell said of his plans once he completes his trek across the continent.
After starting the journey Jan. 12 at Skidaway Island State Park near Savannah, Fussell ran from Cumming to Holly Springs on Saturday and on to his daughter Amy Stormant’s BridgeMill home Sunday morning.
Early Tuesday, he left his daughter’s home to meet with a former colleague at Zaxby’s on Reinhardt College Parkway in Canton and then visited his other former co-workers at the nearby Belk department store, where he worked as the receiving manager for six years.
After leaving Canton, he packed up his jogging stroller and headed toward Waleska to spend the night with friends before heading to Jasper, where he’ll visit a nursing home.
Fussell said what keeps him going is the people along the way.
“They’ll stop me and tell me their Alzheimer’s stories,” he said. “They’ll say, ‘Please make it all the way.’”
Fussell is now on his way to Amicalola Falls State Park, where his journey really begins.
Fussell said he’s running in memory of his father, whom he lost to Alzheimer’s disease in 2000.
Just a year later, Fussell was admitted to the hospital for a bleeding ulcer that began to cause his organs to shut down. Weighing 272 pounds, doctors did not give him much hope for survival.
The divorced grandfather had already escaped a mortal threat at 3 years old, when he was run over by a car and told he might never walk again but he overcame the injury.
After the diagnosis in 2001, Fussell decided to commit to a healthy lifestyle. Upon leaving the hospital, he said he just decided to drive to Amicalola Falls State Park where he stood at the bottom of the 779 steps that lead up to the falls.
“I looked up there as a really big guy and I said, ‘One day, I’m going to get to the top,’” he said.
After running the stairs every day, he eventually did. Then, he set a goal to climb the steps 50 times in one day and did so in 17 hours and 18 minutes.
Though his dedication to trekking the steps led Fussell to lose over 100 pounds, he felt unsure of what to do next.
“When I got through the last one, there was two or three days there when I realized I was getting kind of down, almost depressed,” he said. “I figured out it was because for the first time in almost six years I didn’t have a goal.”
Fussell said he prayed and spoke with friends, and one night it came to him to run across the country. When he told people about his idea, someone asked what cause he planned to support.
“It instantly came out of my mouth without thinking about it,” he said. “I’m going to run for the Alzheimer’s Association because of my dad.”
Everywhere he runs, Fussell wears a bright yellow shirt that reads “Across the Land,” the name he’s given his mission.
On his way out of Waleska on Wednesday morning, about 15 Reinhardt University students cheered him on while others ran alongside.
Lauren Thomas, Reinhardt’s media relations coordinator, said Fussell’s journey was inspirational and she was glad to be a part of it, despite Tuesday’s wet and cold weather.
“Jack is such an inspiration and it was an amazing experience to support and to be able to be just a small part of,” Thomas said.
Fussell headed north to Jasper and will continue toward Fort Mountain and Dalton, where he will begin to make his way westward toward Monterey, Calif.
Despite some challenges, Fussell said he has total confidence he’ll make it all the way, barring anything that may happen out of his control.
“I’ll make it,” he said. “I’ve already made it from Skidaway Island to here. I know I’ll make it.”
Helping him along the way are a few gadgets—including his smartphone, a solar panel and a GPS tracking device—members of the Alzheimer’s Association and his daughter, Amy Stormant, who has become his biggest cheerleader by notifying local media ahead of her father’s arrival.
She said her father’s journey has been inspirational to her and her two young boys, who track their grandfather’s travels on a large map of the U.S.
“It’s crazy to see a man his age that can run 17 or 18 miles a day,” she said.
Fussell said he simply takes breaks when he feels like it, or if the weather prevents him from safely running near the road.
“I have to watch it because I run with a jogging stroller, so I have to get off onto the shoulder when cars come,” he said. “And it’s not just me I’m watching out for… I have to make sure I’m not causing people to have to do anything that would cause them to have a wreck.”
Fussell said he’s had a few alterations to his plan that may extend the trip, as he decided to stop by nursing homes and Alzheimer’s Association chapters along the way, which he had not originally planned to do. That changed when a friend and member of the Alzheimer’s Association picked him up near Statesboro and asked him to come along for a trip to an assisted living facility.
“We went and it was so rewarding to me to go in and see the people and talk with them and hear their stories,” Fussell said. “The reception I got there was fantastic, so I made a commitment in my heart: everywhere I’m running, if I see (an assisted living facility) I’m going to stop, walk in and talk with them.”
He said he also plans stop in about 32 Alzheimer’s Association offices along the way, which could extend his trip to about nine months long
“That’s just a guess,” Fussell said. “I don’t have any time commitment. It’s just to finish… The most important thing to me is to raise the money for the Alzheimer’s Association, raise awareness and help encourage the people who are doing the really hard work. And whether or not they know it or not, every time they talk to me they encourage me.”
According to the Georgia chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease. Every 68 seconds someone in the U.S. is diagnosed. The Georgia chapter serves more than 200,000 Georgians living with Alzheimer’s disease and their families.
He said those working behind the scenes to help Alzheimer’s patients are what makes him run harder and faster each day.
“It does something to me,” he said, noting the outpouring of support he’s received. “I’ve only spent one night (outside) because people are taking me to their homes or taking me to a motel.”
Stormant said she tries not to worry about her father’s safety out on the open road.
“If something happens to him, it happens to him when he’s doing exactly what he wants to do and at the happiest point in his life,” she said.
Prior to running through Cherokee, Fussell had completed 392 miles of his approximately 3,500 mile trip. According to his website, he has raised $9,325 so far with an ultimate goal of $250,000.
He said one of the main things he’s learned along the way is to always ask for help and get back out on the road again, and not to let the little details hold you back from achieving your goals.
“If you wait until you’ve got everything perfect and everything planned, I don’t think you’ll ever do anything,” he said. “And it’s never too late to change.
Those who want to follow Fussell’s journey can visit his website at www.acrosstheland2013.com or follow him on Twitter at @AcrossTheLand.