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One man’s wall of thanks

Fri, Sep 14th, 2012
Posted in All Features

Mike Ehredt runs to thank those men and women who died in service to their country in Afghanistan. Photo by Karen Reisner

Veteran Mike Ehredt, who served his country during a time of peace (1979-1983), is expending his energy and time to honor those who have fought and gave the ultimate sacrifice during the Afghanistan War in service of their country. A route of about 2,200 miles has been laid out. He started north and west of International Falls, Minnesota, (in Birchdale, MN) and will finish in Galveston, Texas. The journey is scheduled to take 81 days. He started on August 23 and will arrive in Galveston on Veterans Day, November 11. Ehredt is running about 26 miles per day or one marathon per day. He will run one mile for each fallen service member. His journey brought him to Preston on the tenth of September, having stayed in St. Charles the previous night.

Hosts have been prearranged for each day of his journey. The host accommodations in Preston were provided by Carlisle Corson at the Trailhead Inn. Ehredt has not met any of those that will open their homes to him and provide him with a nutritious supper and breakfast. It is lights out for him about 9:00 p.m. and he is up by 6:00 a.m. This journey will take him through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. Twenty-seven Minnesotans have died in Afghanistan.

During about a five month period in 2010, Ehredt ran from the west coast to the east coast on a route of nearly 4,500 miles to honor and thank service men and women who died in Iraq. The east west trip was called Project America Run and the current journey is Project America Run II. One bonus for Ehredt is seeing America along the way.

The retired post office clerk (after 28 years) pushes a modified stroller carrying two sets of clothes and other personal items plus another pair of running shoes and flags. Host families often wash clothes for him. A flag and attached yellow ribbon noting the name, rank, home town, and age of each fallen military member is placed on each mile marker on his route. Ehredt gives a sharp salute before leaving each flag to resume his run. About 500 feet of yellow ribbon was used to recognize each individual service member. It took about 1,000 feet for the 2010 journey. Citizens from his home town of Hope, Idaho, (pop. 200) helped inscribe the ribbons and prepare each of the flags. His stroller is adorned with all the shoe laces from all the running shoes that have been worn out on his journeys. Shoes last for 250 to 300 miles.

The flags are being placed in numerical order and chronological order of time of death. He has a list on his phone which assigns a GPS location to each name. “One life, one flag, one mile” explains his mission; he places one flag on each mile post as he runs across the country. Family members can use google earth to locate their loved one’s flag. Ehredt says when he reaches Galveston there will be a wall of flags both east and west and north and south. Both journeys will intersect near his birth place at Galena, Illinois. Flags and a new pair of running shoes are sent to his host of the day every ten days. He expects to burn through eight pair of running shoes on this trip, and wore out nineteen pair last time on the east-west trip.

Ehredt said a buddy of his did all the mapping, looked at construction schedules and looked at the shoulders on the state and county roads to be used to lay out the route. He maintains there is no political agenda, but only one man’s personal tribute and thanks to those that have lost their life in service to their country.

Ehredt is an endurance athlete. He said, “It came to me that this is what I am supposed to do to say thank you.” Ehredt recounts an especially emotional moment when an Alabama woman drove over 24 hours to witness her son’s flag being set on a mile post. The journey is about giving back and remembering. He runs for those who can’t.

Ehredt runs with compression sleeves on his lower legs and sleeps with compression sleeves from his ankles up his thighs. The compression sleeves and a little icing before bedtime are preventative therapy. He has surgical scars on his legs that are the result of corrective work at an early age. His ankles are fused, which doesn’t allow for lateral movement. As a child he had braces on his legs and special shoes throughout high school.

Ehredt says taking a day off gets his body out of whack, so he doesn’t intend to take even one day off on his journey. He has about 18 hours to recover each afternoon and night before the next marathon. About 200 calories are burned per hour. Ehredt drinks a quart of chocolate milk each day and consumes a liquid nutrition product. On his 4,500 mile journey in 2010 he lost only two pounds.

August was chosen as it was starting to cool off up north and the cooler weather could follow him south.

Ehredt promotes a fitness challenge while he is on this journey called 26/81. He encourages people to do 26 minutes per day of some form of outside physical exercise for each of the 81 days.

From his blog

On his blog he recounts his day and the people he has met and those who have joined him on his run for a time. There are “long quiet stretches of highway and dead skunks... gas stations and chocolate milk... miles come and go... I just run.” He writes that he has the freedom to do exactly as he wants for those who can’t, adding it is a sacrifice that cannot be forgotten.

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