story by Rose Kahele
photo by Sergio Goes
Before Forrest Gump sprinted across the country, there was Tom Knoll. Tom ran, by himself, from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles in sixty-four days. His 1983 Across USA Run covered nearly 3,000 miles and raised close to a million dollars for the Sunshine Foundation, a nonprofit that grants the wishes of seriously ill and disabled children. Like his Hollywood counterpart, Knoll ran through the Great Plains, over the Rockies and across the West’s vast deserts, meeting fellow sojourners and picking up followers along the way.
“I had just retired after thirty-three years with the Marines, and I had six months before I was to start a new job, so I figured, why not run across the country?” says Knoll.
Knoll, a longtime Waikiki resident, never stopped running after reaching California. Now 75 and still ultra-fit, the former US Marine gunnery sergeant has completed 185 marathons, including those in Boston, London and New York, as well as twenty Honolulu Marathons. He’s also a member of the 50 States Marathon Club and has finished races in 40 states so far. Knoll is an original Ironman, one of the fifteen competitors who swam, biked and ran around O‘ahu in the multisport’s inaugural event in 1978.
He’s still going: On March 1, Knoll will repeat his cross-country trek, this time starting in San Diego and finishing at the Iwo Jima Memorial in Washington, D.C., on July 4th. His Freedom Run Across America will again raise money for the Sunshine Foundation as well as the Challenge Athletes Fund and the Soldiers Security Association.
This time, Knoll will be joined by his son Warren—an accomplished endurance athlete himself—who will be running and biking the course. Tom will also be taking it a little slower than last time, averaging about 30 to 35 miles per day.
“We’ll be taking Route 66 much of the way, which is great for running because there’s not many cars on it anymore,” says Knoll. “When we hit Arizona, I’m going to try and get Sen. John McCain to join us; in Maryland there’s Cal Ripken Jr., baseball’s iron man. In between, I know a lot of people who will be running with us. This time we’ll raise a million bucks—easy.” HH
To make a pledge, go to www.usfreedomrun.com.