Praetzel ’12 Forges on Following Coast-to-Coast Run

By schwartzsa | October 15, 2012

While most  big brothers display sibling support by giving up the larger portion of a favorite dessert or showing up at that little league game, Chris Praetzel ’12 laced his sneakers, packed a jogging stroller with provisions and started out on a four-month, coast-to-coast run. Extreme perhaps, but then again, extraordinary circumstances require extraordinary resolve.

Praetzel’s younger brother, Brian, was born with hypoplastic kidneys and relied on a transplant when he was just three years old. Hoping to raise awareness for organ donation, Praetzel conquered more than 3,000 grueling miles and dozens of nerve-shattering scenarios, from being bitten by a dog on Route 66 to dodging 40-ton tractor trailers in the wee hours of the morning. He never doubted his ability to reach his goal. It was an effort of love.

“Every day was a challenge,” he says. “Most people who do this either have support or someone with them, and I didn’t have any of that.” Praetzel’s only point of contact was a cell phone, often going hours, sometimes days without service. He camped in forests and found shelter at rest stops and gas stations—all sorts of places.

Often isolated and exhausted, Praetzel could have easily given in to doubt, but the recent graduate of Arcadia’s Sports Psychology program overcame negative thoughts with imagery and attentional focus techniques, using his brother’s struggle as his prime motivator while running along miles of open road.

“I thought a lot about my life, my brother and my family, and how much they mean to me,” he says. “I thought about using my pain to try to help alleviate someone else’s pain. But honestly, other times, I didn’t think about anything at all for days on end.” Praetzel admits that there were times he struggled to remember the day of the week, the date, even sometimes the town he came from that morning.

Though he planned the entire route out before he began his run on May 23 and kept a loose schedule, Praetzel found that there were many circumstances that he just couldn’t have planned for. He circumnavigated road closures, detours and even a herd of buffalo.

Praetzel credits a large portion of his success to the outpouring of assistance he received, oftentimes from complete strangers. “A number of things that really should have gone wrong—a number of times I ran with very little water and food and even though I never asked for it, people around me saw that I was kind of struggling and offered me food, water or a place to stay. The kindness of strangers really saved me.”

A Breathtaking Journey

As the terrain changed on the way from Santa Monica to Atlantic City, Praetzel had to adapt the environment. To pass through the smoldering Mohave Desert, he ran with traffic at night to avoid oncoming headlights. “At 3 or 4 a.m., truck drivers were falling asleep, coming onto the rumble strip—literally within three feet of me. So, with that you hear the engine kind of come up and you hear the rumble as they come onto the rumble strip and just the buzz as they try to get back onto the roadway—all the air goes out of you.”

He also conquered the breathtaking peaks of the Rockies by following roadways and camping in the national forest at night. “Just to be up at the top of these pine covered mountains, look out and see forever in all these kind of picturesque landscapes was amazing.”

“It was so good,” says Praetzel of his reunion with his brother in their hometown. The two ran the last mile together on Sept. 24, which concluded with a dip into the chilly Atlantic Ocean. In addition to donations, Praetzel took whatever money was left over from his personal budget and put the money toward Gift of Life Donors Program. He donated a $625 check to the program.

“The entire run was for the love of my brother,” he says. “He is my best friend. Just being able to pass his courage forward—I don’t care about the miles or anything like that—I’m just trying to make a difference to organ donation.”

Though his coast-to-coast journey has come to an end, his mission is ongoing. As Praetzel applies to graduate school for Sports Psychology, he continues to tell his brother’s story as well as his own.