Man running across country to raise awareness for Batten disease stops in Craig, Steamboat Springs
Craig — Each summer, Northwest Colorado sees its fair share of groups traversing the nation to raise money and awareness for a charity or disease of their choosing.
Noah Coughlan, 29, ran into Craig on Wednesday evening and took off Thursday morning headed for Steamboat Springs. Nearly 50 days into crossing the country on foot while pushing a stroller filled with survival and sustenance items and fitted with an American flag, the bearded runner is hard to miss, especially when he’s running between towns in the middle of nowhere.
“You have to have a sense of humor on the road,” Coughlan said. “So I’m growing out my Gump beard.”
Coughlan is undertaking the venture to raise awareness for Batten disease, a rare, genetic brain disease that occurs in two to four of every 100,000 births in the United States, according to the Batten Disease Support and Research Association. It has no known cure.
Coughlan traversed the country from San Diego to Jacksonville, Fla., in 2011 for Batten disease, covering 2,500 miles in the spring. He had learned that Batten disease was lesser known than he realized and decided to do something about it.
“I thought I could do something really big for a disease that’s so small and so rare,” he said. “I’ve grown up knowing about Batten disease. There were two girls, Catie and Annie Allio, who were childhood friends.”
The disease took Catie’s life, but Annie, 15, still is alive.
During his 2011 run, Coughlan tried to run for a different child each day to honor the child and his or her family. One of the children he ran for was Justin Peck, son of Corey and Cheri Peck, who died in January 2012 at age 7 from the disease. Corey’s brother and wife, Amy and Kevin Peck, live in Craig and gave Coughlan a place to stay Wednesday night.
“It means the world to us that he would run for our son,” Cheri said. “It makes people feel like today, this great thing he’s doing is personal to them.”
When Coughlan left Craig on Thursday morning, he again was running in Justin’s honor. Now a much stronger runner than he was in 2011, he is taking a difficult and lengthy path from San Francisco to Boston. But he said he felt there still was a difference to be made.
“What led me to this second run is knowing I can still make an impact,” Coughlan said. “This is what I could do. I happen to be in a position to dedicate a block of time, and I wanted to see a lot of these northern families that I knew about from 2011 but hadn’t seen.”
Coughlan has encountered plenty of challenges during his run, including deserts and mountains, which he is looking forward to leaving behind him for good. He also has pushed the stroller the entire way, including through Northwest Colorado during the rainiest week of the year.
That is all part of the challenge that is not always fun but is always worth it, he said. While Mother Nature at times has had it out for him, passersby consistently have come through with kindness. He received a complimentary night’s stay at the Red Rose Motel in Maybell and a long-overdue haircut at Changez Salon after making it to Craig, he said.
“I get to experience the kindness and the generosity of the American people,” he said.
After departing Steamboat Springs, Coughlan will run to Walden; Cheyenne, Wyo.; and through Nebraska. He hopes to empower the children and families affected by Batten disease through his example and effort along the way.
“For us, it brings us hope,” Cheri said. “His going across the country gives us a voice louder than ourselves and our little group. It makes us stronger.”
Nate Waggenspack can be reached at 970-875-1795 or nwaggenspack@CraigDailyPress.com.
What often begins as a hobby to pass the time by creating something appealing to the artist or appealing to the eye, to the ear, something tasty or something — anything, can often flower into a real source of income that can help working families in rural economies like ours.