For years, Christian Griffith ran from his problems — now he’s running to make a difference. Traveling on foot from New York City to San Francisco, Griffith is running to raise awareness about child sexual abuse.
“I want people to have the opportunity to seek treatment,” Griffith said. “You have to make a lot of noise to be heard.”
This isn’t the first time Griffith has pushed his body to the limits of human endurance, the multi-sport athlete has competed in more than 100 ultra marathons and appeared as a contestant on reality television shows such as “American Ninja Warrior” and “The Selection: Special Operations Experiment.”
Despite his training and experience, the 47-year-old digital strategist from Jacksonville, Fla. has found running across America may be his biggest challenge yet.
Running to support Help For Children, a nationwide charity that fights against the sexual abuse of children. It’s an organization near and dear to Griffith’s heart. Sexually abused by his mother and other men as child, Griffith has firsthand experience with the trauma sexual abuse has on children. As a young man, Griffith fought hard to bury his demons, but the problems didn’t go away, they only intensified.
“At 14, the last thing I wanted my friends to know was that I’d had sex with another man,” Griffith said.
In an attempt to cope with his demons, Griffith pursued women as often as he could. He wanted to demonstrate his heterosexuality was beyond question. Even though he felt rewarded in his career and his personal life for his ability to attract women, Griffith found it tough to make changes in his life, despite the damage he was causing around him.
“Sure, I was upsetting women, but why would I ever change that,” Griffith said. “I wasn’t having intimate relationships with women, anyway.”
It wasn’t until 2016 when Griffith was competing in an ultra marathon event in Australia that his life started to turn around. After listening to fellow competitor Damien Rider share his stories of childhood sexual abuse, Griffith felt the urge to speak out for the first time in his life. On the plane ride back from Australia he composed a long text message to Rider, detailing the sexual abuse he’d suffered as a child. Rider wrote back, “Wow mate, now what?” a message that would change Griffith’s life.
“Everything I’m doing now is ‘now what,’” Griffith said.
In Nicaragua, where Griffith was living as an ex-pat, he sat down at his computer to compose a blog post. In the post, titled, “Damn Right, I was Sexually Abused,” Griffith detailed the abuse he’d suffered at the hands of family and friends as a child. The next morning, he’d received more than 150 messages of support on his Facebook page, including several individuals who opened up to him to share their personal stories of abuse. Almost unknowingly, he’d become a catalyst for change, just as Rider had done for him.
“I want people to know they have the opportunity to seek treatment,” Griffith said.
Even after unloading about his past on social media, Griffith still faced a long road to recovery. He began participating in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, a psychotherapy treatment that focuses on alleviating issues caused by painful memories and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the American Psychological Association. Therapy gave Griffith a way to move beyond his abuse, opening a path for him he hadn’t been able to see before.
“I’m still in therapy. It’s the key to turning the corner and overcoming the behaviors and coping mechanisms I’ve lived with my entire life,” Griffith said.
Once he was settled into therapy, Griffith knew it was time to act.
“It’s great to be talking about it, but what are you going to do?” Griffith asked himself.
He reached out to Renee Skolaski, the Executive Director at Help for Children, with an offer to partner up with their organization to help raise money and build awareness. Skolaski still remembers the first time Griffith contacted her to tell her about his plan.
“He told me, ‘do you like big ideas?’ and we all burst out laughing,” Skolaski recalled. “I told him that I loved big ideas. I said yes and I told him we’ll figure this out. You don’t get a chance to launch an endurance athlete across the country every day.”
Setting a goal to raise $1 million, Griffith and Skolaski launched Run2Heal earlier this year. In 100 days, Griffith would run coast to coast, from New York to San Francisco, a route more than 3,000 miles long. Along the way Griffith has been hosting 5K events and urging runners to join him, connecting in a way that Skolaski said has been mesmerizing.
“All along the way his ability to raise awareness and get people talking about abuse, especially men, to be vulnerable enough to talk about it has led to all sorts of people coming out,” Skolaski said. “We’ve received all sorts of questions about therapy, it’s just done a world of good.”
Running an average of 34 miles a day hasn’t been easy, however. Early on, Griffith fought the weather, running through late season snow storms as he crossed through the northeastern United States. In the Midwest he’s battled dehydration and fatigue, struggling at times to drink enough water. Despite everything he’s endured, Griffith refuses to quit.
“I can’t let that happen,” Griffith said. “I lived my whole life without a purpose, I finally have a purpose.”
While he mostly runs alone, Griffith is always looking for company. Using the tracking app Strava, runners can follow Griffith as he pounds the pavement across America. More than 100 runners have joined him during his journey so far. More often than not, he runs alone, eschewing music to run in total silence.
“I’ve got a lot of demons to work through,” Griffith said.
Nearing the halfway point of his journey Griffith has seen plenty of America. On Monday, he said Iowa has been his favorite state to run through, so far. He’s been humbled by the friendliness and generosity of the people he’s met as he’s worked his way through the Hawkeye state.
Strangers have bought him breakfast, helped dislodge his RV from a muddy B-level service road and wave to him as they pass him on the road. He’s also learned that Iowa isn’t nearly as flat as he’d been led to believe.
“This state has been pretty memorable. It’s my favorite state hands down,” Griffith said. “From the people I’ve met to the unexpected beauty, it looks like Ireland to me.”
For Skolaski, watching Griffith and his handler Adam Warwinsky move across the country has been filled with heartwarming moment. Even though Skolaski is familiar with the “nuts and bolts” of the trip, she’s been touched by the stories the duo post on their Instagram feed, watching them interact and inspire the people they meet has had a profound impact on her.
“It’s a really beautiful slice of life across the country. That’s been super fun for me,” Skolaski said. “There’s nothing short of Herculean in what he’s doing, he’s running more than a marathon every single day.”
Griffith isn’t afraid to draw his inspiration from Hollywood as well. Watching actor Tom Hanks run across America in Forrest Gump was a motivator for the extreme athlete. Like Forrest, he’s working through his demons one mile at a time.
“I’d be lying to say it didn’t inspire me. I understood it when I saw it, it made a lot of sense to me,” Griffith said. “I get that whole wanting to escape.”
Unlike Gump, this isn’t a journey that Griffith is taking alone. He credits his “baby mama” Lindsey with helping him embrace therapy and find a way to start moving forward. As he runs he’s been writing journal entries to their newborn daughter about the lessons he’s been learning on the road. Reaching the finish line in San Francisco isn’t the end of his journey, it’s another step forward on his path.
“I’m writing lessons to my baby girl, lessons I’m learning on the road,” Griffith said. “When she’s old enough to understand, I can share that book with her, I don’t want this to end just because I’m done running.”
Contact David Dolmage at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or firstname.lastname@example.org