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On the run

Jared Choate ran across the country because he just didn’t have a reason not to. He was out of money, out of a job and out of excuses.

He flew to Surf City, N.J. and ran the 3,000 miles to Santa Monica Pier, Calif. What he learned had nothing to do with physical endurance or his abilities. Instead, he was shown the goodness of people.

“I had the good luck of meeting the nicest people in America, I’m convinced,” Choate said.

Two years after finishing the run, Choate is planning to bike across the country to promote his book “The Now Testament.” He stresses that the book isn’t about running, it’s about the people he met and the lessons he learned on his journey.

“It’s about doing it now, not waiting until later,” Choate said.

After graduating from UW-Eau Claire, Choate moved to Los Angeles in March 2010 to study at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater.

Choate has degrees from Eau Claire in psychology and criminal justice and is currently working on his nursing degree here, but he said his passion is writing.

The mentality that UCB fosters is based on saying “yes” to things and not limiting yourself. Choate said his upbringing reflected these same qualities and that’s what eventually convinced him to do the run.

With little planning and preparation, Choate started running on Sept. 1, 2010 and embarked on a trip that would teach him more about other people than himself.

As he pushed his baby stroller — which he affectionately refers to as Maybelline — stocked with supplies across state after state, Choate said he would sleep in dugouts of baseball fields and parks. He never sought help unless he really needed it. He said he was lucky enough to meet kind strangers who offered a room in their house or even to pay for a hotel room.

Choate remembers one week in particular in Harrison, Ark. The weather was making it difficult for Choate to run, so he planned to stay a few days. He said he had trouble locating a warm place to stay.

He tried calling churches and shelters in the area until he was led to a woman named Joyce and her husband who not only paid for Choate to stay in a hotel for a night, but also let him stay with them when the weather kept him in town an extra day.

“They were just wonderfully happy people,” Choate said. “It was really cool just to have a family experience, because I’m on the road all day and just talking to myself or to the cows. Just to feel a sense of family was comforting.”

During Choate’s stay in Arkansas, he met some friends of Joyce’s who, after knowing him for about two minutes, handed him an envelope containing $100. Choate said he never even got the chance to thank them and hopes the book accomplishes that.

In the end, the weather forced Choate to spend about a week in Harrison. He kept himself warm and busy by going to movies and hanging out in restaurants. It was in a Taco Bell near the end of his stay in Harrison that he
met Jaccylyn.

She was another important figure in Choate’s run. As they struck up a conversation, Jaccylyn invited Choate to join her and her friend to hang out at Wal-Mart, which Choate said is a common activity in Harrison.

Over the next couple of days, Jaccylyn paid for Choate’s hotel room, bought him a few meals, and drove him to the next town so he could continue his run. He said the ride he got from Jaccylyn was one of only a few he accepted out of necessity.

While he met many people who offered help, Choate noticed that the people offering the most help were often those who didn’t have as much to give.

“All day long, cars would drive by and it was not infrequent that cars would stop,” Choate said. “But it was never the SUV with the new grill up front or the spinning rims. It was seldom the people you’d expect. The people who needed help the most were the ones to first offer it without even thinking twice. You learn more from having a little than having a lot.”

Just as his run wouldn’t have succeeded without the help of those he met along the way, Choate said his wife and friends were integral in making sure he was safe and on track. During the run, he considered his wife Kelly Choate the headquarters of the operation.

“He needed someone to be his eyes,” Kelly Choate said. “He needed somebody to push him in the right direction with planning and to be able to know where he was going to be at the end of the day and know where he was going to be waking up. So basically, every morning he called me. We would try to coordinate over the phone while I was on the computer mapping out (the route).”

Jared Choate’s best friend, Eau Claire alum Keith McAleer helped with the website and other logistical things. McAleer said he wasn’t surprised Jared decided to take on something like this and only wished he could have helped more.

“It seemed like something Jared would do but, (it was difficult) losing control when he started the run … being far away and not being able to help him as much as I wanted to,” McAleer said.

Jared Choate said he had a hard time talking about his experiences after the run. His stories felt very personal to him; not many people even knew he was writing a book. It wasn’t until a presentation in Psychology Senior Lecturer Sharon Westphal’s human development class that he was inspired to start sharing his story.

Jared Choate asked Westphal if she would allow him to speak to her classes about what he learned and she agreed. She hadn’t heard Jared Choate’s story before his presentation and she was just as impressed as everyone else.

“He did his presentations on April 30 and they were amazing,” Westphal said. “My students loved him. He gave them permission to live in the now and to talk to people. I’m glad for him and I hope he’s very successful.”

Jared Choate said he has spent much of his time since the run reflecting on the mental aspects of the run, not the physical, and that is what’s in the book.

He describes the book as more of a mix tape, referring to the chapters as tracks. Each one is the story of the people he met along the way and what he learned from them.

“Hopefully, the book is remembered even more than the run,” Jared Choate said. “I have spent a great deal of time trying to pour into the book the heart and soul and love and life and just all the emotions of the run.”

The book means a lot to Jared Choate, but it means just as much to those closest to him who watched him and helped him during his run. The determination it takes to do something like run across the country could inspire many, but perhaps the person he inspired the most was his wife.

“He’s walking, living, breathing proof that you can just do it if you decide that you want to,” Kelly Choate said. “I would love to put myself in an experience like this…it kind of gives me the chance to do something crazy myself.”

“The Now Testament” will be released on July 13 and will be available at jaredchoate.com.

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