By SHANNON HAUGLAND
Sentinel Staff Writer
A month after David Wilcox became the second youngest person to run across the country, life has just about returned to normal for the Wilcox family. Well, as normal as it gets for this busy family.
A recent visit to the Wilcox home found David, 15, catching up on the last of his six months’ worth of home school coursework on a laptop computer and recovering from a running injury. Sister Olivia, 13, who accompanied David in the support van, is curled up in a living room chair with her eyes glued to a smartphone. Mom Kris is talking with a visitor while tending to the needs of a new pit bull-mix dog they picked up on the cross-country journey, while dad Brett is salvaging meat from an old salmon for the two family dogs.
By most counts, the cross-country run was a success, with David and his dad averaging 18 to 20 miles a day on the 2,966-mile trip, finishing in time for David to be back for the start of the school year.
At stops along the seven-month journey, the family distributed a message expressing their opposition to genetically modified food products and to the corporate giant Monsanto, which developed and markets the genetically modified seeds from which a high percentage of farm products are grown today.
Brett said he felt the long-distance run and the message about genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) went well together to promote a healthy lifestyle. “For us, it’s all one and the same,” Brett said in an earlier interview.
Are they happy to be home?
For Olivia, the answer is an emphatic “yes,” but the others had to think a little before answering.
David is swamped with homework from last semester, while nursing an injury he sustained on the run and which has kept him sidelined from the start of high school cross country competition this year.
Kris is happy to be home, and eagerly waiting to move back into the family house, which they rented out for the first half of the year.
Brett commented: “I have mixed feelings about it – I was on an adrenaline high for two years, doing everything to prepare, talking to people, talking about my book.” (Brett’s self-published a book, “We’re Monsanto: Feeding the World, Lie after Lie” was completed last fall.)
David, a talented high school distance runner, originally had the plan for running across the country, inspired by a similar feat by another U.S. teen. Brett, also a running enthusiast, was quickly on board, deciding to accompany his son in the challenge. Kris was also eager to support her son’s dream, and served as the support and logistics team with Olivia.
The group left Sitka on Jan. 8, and took a detour through the Southwest before starting the run on Jan. 18. They had a rough first day, starting after only three hours of sleep and covering only nine miles, far short of the 17 to 18 miles a day they had planned.
“It sucked so much,” David said of his low-energy day. It was better after that.
“Later, we went past 20 and kept going, and it stopped being such a big deal,” he said.
The Wilcoxes mainly stuck to their schedule, giving interviews with TV stations and newspapers when possible, passing out some of the 3,000 packets of GMO-free garden seeds they carried, and speaking to groups. Some days were busier than others.
“In the desert, in the southwest, we would go two or three days without passing out a seed packet,” Brett said. “The big shift happened after we crossed the Mississippi.”
David and Brett were mostly on their own as they ran, pushing a stroller containing their flyers as well as food and water for themselves and sometimes for the family dogs.
Kris drove the truck, pulling a travel trailer, while managing the $45,000 budget for the trip and locating cheap – or free – places to stay. Olivia helped keep house, prepare meals and set up camp.
They said their message about genetically modified crops was generally well-received, as they passed out the donated lettuce seed packets from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co. to passersby.
Brett and Kris said it was gratifying to go into the poorer neighborhoods, and to be able to talk to people outside on the streets and on porches. East St. Louis, Mo., West Philadelphia, Pa., and Camden, N.J. – all known as rough cities – were high points, Brett said.
“We ran right through and had a blast doing it,” he said. “We had a lot of nice conversations.”
Among the speaking engagements they had were one at The March Against Monsanto demonstration at the company’s headquarters in St. Louis, where Brett and David were keynote speakers. The family said they were surprised at the level of security for that event. Brett said that by his count there were eight different law enforcement groups present.
“They had enough security (as if) we were criminals,” Brett said.
While most of the trip went as planned, there were a few surprises. For Brett, it was the validation and support the family received for their GMO-free message across the country. “I was expecting resistance and hostility,” he said. “Nearly every person we met in 3,000 miles said, ‘we support you,’ ‘good on you.’”
Many people weren’t aware of the GMO issue, and Brett was more than happy to spread the word. “We did our part the best we could,” Brett said.
David said his “good surprise” was meeting a semi-professional runner at a shoe store in Flagstaff, Ariz., and learning about trying to make it as a pro, and some of the challenges.
“It was just cool meeting someone who runs at that level, although he’s not professional and may not make it all the way,” said David, who was the Region V 3A champion in last year’s cross country season.
He commented that a “not nice surprise” was speaking at the May 24 March Against Monsanto, where he said he was not particularly comfortable talking to the crowd of 100.
“He did fine,” his dad said. “He did a great job.”
For Brett and Kris, a low point was when injuries slowed David to a walk for two months until they found the right medical help in McMurray, Pa. A chiropractor who was recommended to them promised David he would be up and running within two days. And he was.
“As parents we were always questioning whether what we were doing was in David’s best interest,” Brett said, adding, “He’s still injured now.”
But overall, the family said it was a good experience, and a learning experience for everyone. “It changed the way I look at people in a huge way,” Kris said. “So many people were so open. They opened their homes, they opened their hearts. Some of the time it was our cause, some if it just because they saw it was a family doing something cool.”
Kris said the family held fundraisers before starting the run, and wanted to do as much as possible on their own, but found it was not possible to do everything. “People jumped in, and did something – because they wanted to,” Kris said. “I never want to be relying on other people, but we found people were there to hold us up. … We couldn’t be all on our own.”
“I’m glad we did it,” Brett said. “It was a once in a lifetime. It’ll always be there. It was hard; it was a challenge, but absolutely.”
Brett said David is now the second youngest person to run across the U.S.
David’s Nov. 9 blog says that the title for youngest goes to a boy named Tobias Cotton, who did it in 1928 when he was a few months younger than David was when he started his run. Tobias was one of 198 competitors, and one of five African Americans, in a foot race across the United States, finishing in 35th place.
David said that although Tobias didn’t win the $25,000 prize, the famous entertainer William “Bojangles” Robinson, who was appearing in a musical at the time, organized a special fundraising performance with all earnings going to the Cotton family.