Barefooted runner stops in Newnan
by Wes Mayer
A man running a 12,000-mile route from Canada to the bottom tip of South America made a pit stop in Newnan on Friday.
Oh, and he’s running the entire distance barefoot.
Joseph Micheal Liu began his trek on July 2 from Montreal, Canada. His goal is the capital city of Tierra del Fuego, Ushuaia, considered to be the southernmost city of the world. Liu is running to raise awareness and funding for charity, and he is running the entire distance without shoes.
“After so many miles, it hurts,” Liu said. “You have to transition your running from using shoes, and it took me a full two years of training. I also ran cross country for six years.”
Liu’s charity, Edible Schoolyard, is a nonprofit organization that hopes to introduce and supply children from low-income families with organic fresh fruits and vegetables. The organization seeks to blend organic and edible gardening with children’s elementary school education to teach them about healthier eating habits. Edible Schoolyard has two branches in New York City and New Orleans.
Liu is running the entire distance solo with the help of donations and sponsors. Each day, he tries to run between 15 and 25 miles, with his maximum so far being 33 miles. He explained how he has chosen his route to work with the seasons and is trying to stay ahead of winter.
So far, Liu has run down the East Coast, following the Appalachian Trail, from Montreal. From Georgia, he plans to run through New Orleans to Houston and over the border into Mexico. He will be running along the Gulf of Mexico to Guatemala, and then along the Pacific Ocean to Panama.
Because of the geography of Panama and the Darien Gap, he is being forced to take a boat to northern Colombia, but he will then continue south along the Qhapaq Nan Trail through Ecuador, Peru and Chile. Finally, he will cut through Argentina and follow the Atlantic Ocean to Tierra del Fuego.
Liu began his trip with a backpack to carry his gear — which was pretty heavy and included a tent, a sleeping bag, a water reservoir, clothes, a satellite communicator, solar panels, and a cell phone, his only connection to the world. However, after three weeks into his journey, he hit a heat wave in Vermont.
“I knew if I continued, I wasn’t going to make it,” Liu said.
Fortunately, one of his 28 sponsors, Chariot, specializes in making baby carriages for runners. Liu plans to continue running with the carriage taking the weight of his gear. His other sponsors, which include Concordia University — where he graduated with an Industrial Engineering degree, multiple outdoor fitness and gear companies and superfood store Chosen Foods, have helped Liu on his journey.
So far, Liu said his trip has mostly gone without a hitch. Mostly.
“I almost got hit by a car on my way to Charleston,” Liu said. “The only road into Charleston was Hwy. 17. It was very busy, and there was no shoulder.”
At one point on Hwy. 17, he said two cars were coming at the same time; they barely missed him and one car almost flipped. After the close call, Liu decided not to run on that highway anymore and someone helped drive him into Charleston.
Liu’s brother lives in Mexico and is helping Liu out with contacts along his trip. Liu said in an average week he will camp outside for three nights, but some days, with the help of his brother, he is fortunate enough to get free nights in hotels and free meals at restaurants. In addition to his brother, though, Liu has received a new helpful contact in Newnan.
“I would love his support team to grow,” said Sandy Lee, the director of sales at the Newnan Hampton Inn where Liu spent the night for free on Friday. “He needs that. What he is doing for education is awesome, and we all know how important education is.”
Lee was inspired by Liu’s expedition and has personally decided to help him out in any way she can for the rest of his trip. Lee has been contacting hotels and restaurants along Liu’s route to see if he can get free nights and food — she is confident the hotels and restaurants will be helping him out. Lee said she is even going to help him pay his cell phone bill and also has a few friends in salons who might help Liu with haircuts.
Liu’s next stop is Hogansville, then LaGrange and onto Alabama. His entire expedition is expected to take more than two years.
You can follow Liu’s journey on his website, www.runningtotheendoftheworld.com. There you may donate to Liu directly for his expedition and to Edible Schoolyard NYC or Edible Schoolyard New Orleans. You may also contact Liu at email@example.com . Liu is also hoping to pick up a production company to document and promote his journey.
“My trip is so spontaneous and so random, it would be great to get it all on camera,” Liu said.