By Kim Constantinesco
Looking at it on the surface, the Evans family had the quintessential American summer vacation. They rented an RV, drove across the country, saw Mt. Rushmore and a few other historical sites, and called various campgrounds “home” for a night or two.
When you dig a little deeper, however, you come to find that dad and ultramarathoner, Shaun Evans, 37, wasn’t driving the RV. He was running behind it for the family’s 3,205-mile trek from Seattle to New York while pushing his 9-year-old son, Shamus, who has cerebral palsy.
Along the route, the Evans family gave over 20 racing wheelchairs to various families who have a child with a disability, with the mission of “spreading inclusion and gifting mobility.” In doing that, both Shamus and his 7-year-old brother, Simon, learned so much more than geography and history. They learned that, most importantly, in giving, we receive.
On the Run
Shaun Evans has always liked to keep his legs moving. He ran track in high school, earned a scholarship to play soccer at Notre Dame College in Manchester, NH, and then picked up distance running after college. He ran his first marathon in 2001, got hooked on the sport, and completed 4-5 marathons a year after that.
Before Shaun and his wife,Nichole, had Shamus, Shaun had every intention of running with his kids. When Shamus was a year old, he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, but that didn’t discourage Shaun from getting his son outdoors. Then, 20 months later when Simon was born, Shaun got a double-jogging stroller.
A few surgeries in 2012 put the physical therapist from Galway, NY, out of running for a year. By the time he got back to it, Shamus had outgrown their old jogging stroller. That’s when Ainsley’s Angels donated one of their “Freedom Chairs” to the family, which is an adaptive wheelchair that allows people with special needs to experience endurance events.
Once Shamus got his new wheels, he wanted to start racing with his dad. Their first race was a 4-mile run near Saratoga Springs.
“From that point, he was hooked on the running community and loved being part of an event,” Shaun said. “Shamus loves roller coasters and downhill skiing, but he can’t make his body do that. He relies on external forces to make that happen for him whether that be a roller coaster or my legs. He loves the sensation, so I have the honor and the privilege to be his legs.”
Following the race, Shamus, who knew that his dad signed up for his first ultramarathon, asked if he could run with him. The ultra event was a six-hour race around a park on a .335 cinder track. Whoever ran the furthest in the allotted time won the race.
“I said, ‘Sure, Shamus. You can join me.’ I figured he was going to get bored and want to bail out. What 7-year-old wants to run around in circles for six hours?”
Like his father, Shamus was in it for the long haul. At the four-and-a-half hour mark, Nichole had to force Shamus out of his chair to eat lunch, use the bathroom, and stretch his legs. Naturally, Shamus told Shaun to keep running. Twenty minutes later, Shamus was back, and by the end of six hours, they had run 125 laps (over 45 miles), and came in first place.
“Shamus inspired me to keep going when I wanted to take a break. He was pulling me more than I was pushing him that day,” Shaun said.
An Idea is Born
When the family got back in the car to go home, Shamus asked his dad how far he thought they could make it if they ran THAT far every day over his summer vacation.
“I wasn’t really thinking he was serious at the time,” Shaun said. “I figured it was just a question so I helped him with the math, and I said, ‘Wow, Shamus. We could run 3,000 miles!” He goes, ‘Wow, that’s a long ways. How far could we make it if we ran 3,000 miles?’ Again, as an exercise in geography more than anything else, I pulled out a map of the United States and I said, ‘We could run all the way from this ocean all the way over to this ocean.'”
A light bulb went off in Shamus’s head and a flame was ignited in his soul.
“He said, ‘Dad, we HAVE to do that!'” Shaun said.
Shamus asked his parents about the cross-country run every night for three months straight.
“One night, I was tucking him in and he said, ‘Dad, when we run across the country…’ And that was the thing. He always said ‘When.’ He said, ‘When we run across the country, can we donate chairs to other kids like me, so they can feel what it’s like to run?’ That’s what sealed the deal for me.”
Shaun went into his employer explaining that he had saved up his vacation time, and wanted to get permission to take a couple months off all at once to embark on this family trip. He got the green light, so the two-year fundraising and preparation process got underway.
A Family Experience
One July 4, Shaun, Nichole, Shamus, and Simon dipped their toes in the Puget Sound and then set off.
Shaun ran 55-60 miles per day with Nichole leapfrogging him in the RV every 5-7 miles so that he could refuel and hydrate.
Shamus and Simon ran with him whenever road and weather conditions allowed.
“Shamus would have loved to run with me every step of the way, but it just wasn’t safe or practical,” Shaun said. “When all was said and done, he probably rode 2,100 miles or so. I was out there alone for about 1,000 miles. Mentally, that was the toughest part for me; knowing I had to get back to my family and try to not have them waiting for too long.”
As much travel as there was, the family made plenty of time for some summer fun, too. Shaun would stop running by 3:00 or 4:00 p.m. every day and they’d go see a historical site like the Lewis and Clark Caverns in Montana, or they would hang out at the campground and play board games and go swimming.
“Simon wasn’t independent on a two-wheel bicycle this summer. When we got to Idaho, we bought a bike at a Walmart and started practicing around campgrounds,” Shaun said. “Within a couple of days, he was independent, and he rode his bike for the rest of the summer. Shamus swam and learned how to snorkel.”
Shaun and Nichole wanted their boys to enjoy the experience, and they indeed, savored every bit of it; particularly donating wheelchairs to families along the way.
Each chair retails for about $1,000. The family had eight shipped to Seattle, two to South Dakota, and eight to Chicago to be picked up and stowed in the RV until they could reach each family. The rest of the chairs, including the seven that were donated to families not on the route, were sent directly to the families. At each chair presentation, Shaun took the child with special needs on his or her first run.
“Shamus and Simon had the best time doing that, and they made friends along the way,” Shaun said.
The miles ticked by quickly — too quickly, and before the family knew it, they hit New York on September 1, where again they soaked their toes in the ocean. For a family, who had never been away from home for more than five days, tears were shed because the journey was over.
However, the memories and impact they made, which were marked in miles, will stick around much longer than the blisters.