Moving in a positive direction: Q&A with ultra-endurance runner Christian Griffith
As part of a cross country running effort, Christian Griffith passed through Craig and Moffat County in late June and early July as Run2Heal, part of Help for Children, a 501c3 organization devoted to preventing and treating child abuse.
Griffith is an ultra-endurance athlete who has been involved with NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior” and History Channel’s “The Selection: Special Operations Experiment.”
He is also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse himself, and it’s that experience that he hopes will inspire others to speak out about the topic of child abuse, beginning his project March 19 at New York City’s Riverside Park with plans to end Aug. 22 in San Francisco. Griffith hopes to raise $1 million by the time he hits the finish line.
Craig Press spoke with Griffith about his motivations for Run2Heal and the process of heading on foot across the nation.
Craig Press: What was your inspiration for doing this project?
Griffith: I came across Help for Children when I was doing a race in the British Virgin Islands when they were opening a chapter on the island of Tortola, and they asked if I would run with a jersey with their name on it. Then, I did some speaking engagements since I’m a victim of childhood sexual abuse myself. When I got back to the states, we still talked about me doing some more spokesperson work. I’d always wanted to run across country, that’s kind of the Super Bowl for endurance athletes, so I offered up the idea to them to run and help raise awareness.
What’s the process for fundraising?
We do all kinds of different campaigns, but people can donate via GoFundMe or directly to Help for Children. Really, we’re just asking people to pay attention and to donate because they’re donating toward money for grants for a lot of local organizations.
Is discussing your childhood experiences an important part of this journey for you?
I talk about it really freely. I had hidden from it for about 30-some years, and as a result of that, I had developed a lot of behaviors I’m not necessarily proud of. Once I started to deal with those behaviors over the past two, three years, I realized that therapy is the only way to deal with them. Just like an alcoholic is never truly going to believe they’re an alcoholic, and they need that treatment to help them, same with drug addiction or anything else. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to fix myself, and other people who’ve been through what I’ve been through more than likely can’t fix themselves.
I talk a lot about treatment because I understand it and I’m in it. I don’t have everything figured out myself, so I’m using this run for a lot of one-on-one time with myself, kind of forced to do that, if you will, to think about some of the stuff I struggle with, like forgiveness. I’m trying to talk to as many people as I can and get as many people as I can to pay attention to this. Before I started talking about this two or three years ago, you would have never guessed this was in my past, I was really good at hiding it. There’s no real face for this, you can’t just look at someone and say, “Oh, they’ve been abused.” The statistics are one in three girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before the age of 18. That’s a huge number. I know there are people dealing with it while I’m talking and hopefully I can get them to start talking, start addressing these issues in their lives.
What kind of pace have you kept on the road?
It depends on the distance. It’s kind of a walk-run thing. If it’s over 15 miles, it’ll take me three, three-and-a-half hours per leg, and I’m out about seven hours per day running 30 to 34 miles a day. The way I like to explain it is every day I run a half-marathon, finish that off with a 10K. Then I eat something, rest, run another half-marathon and another 10K.
What goes through your mind while running?
I don’t always want to think about negative crap like my abuse. Sometimes it just gets too heavy to deal with, so I like to think about more normal things. Sometimes I’m creating new ideas for companies, things I want to do with my baby when I get home. I think about other places I’d like to travel to, records I’d like to break like the world record in the mile, lots of different things.
I just had a daughter, Kai, who’s 14 weeks old. She was born while I was running, so I went back home and spent some time with her. Every month or so, my girlfriend and baby have flown out to meet me somewhere, whether it was Chicago or Iowa or Utah, and I’ll be able to see them at the finish in San Francisco.
Any particular stretches of the country that have been difficult for you?
I’m taking my time with this and taking a long route. You can run across the country in about 2,600 miles, but my route is well over 3,000 and not one of the easier routes, much hillier. It had to do with where I wanted to go, like stops in Chicago and Denver, so hitting cities like that is important.
The first month was terrible, a lot of bad weather. I don’t like snow, I’m a beach guy, so I don’t tolerate cold well. Other stretches have been more emotional than physical. I can endure a lot physically, but I miss my baby and my family. It’s the simple things I miss too, like good waves for surfing in Florida this summer that I’m missing. I’m a little homesick, thinking about my little yellow house five blocks off the beach and wanting to get back to my dogs and my low-key lifestyle.
Any other plans to promote your cause after the run is finished?
I like the speaking engagements, but it’s a double-edged sword for me. I tend to be kind of adversarial, and I don’t really want to be thought of as a public speaker because my frame of reference for public speakers is not pleasant. But, I don want to continue to talk to people about abuse. Childhood sexual abuse in particular is such a taboo subject people are afraid to address. I can have an impact on a lot of kids, and maybe it’s my tattoos or the TV stuff I’ve done, but kids tend to gravitate toward me pretty well. Since that’s the case, I think I should use that as often as I can, and when I have the opportunity to talk to “challenged” kids, I take that every single time. I’d like to continue doing that, without a doubt.
For me, the most value that can come out of the media is that someone reads this story and knows they’re not alone. I was sexually abused by men, and I didn’t want anyone to know that. There are men or boys who might see this and think, “That happened to me, and I didn’t want to talk about it, but I’ve cheated on wives, had three different girlfriends and had all these dysfunctional things in my life, so maybe it’s time I address this.” If I can have that kind of impact on someone and help them move in a positive direction, that’s extremely valuable.