By Kim Constantinesco
George Chmiel is currently sidestepping and springing over venomous desert snakes. Thus far, they’ve littered his 3,031-mile route from San Diego to New York City.
“It’s really scary. They’re everywhere,” the 35-year-old from San Diego said. “You just have to be so careful, especially in these remote areas where we’re not close to a hospital. These are big nasty rattlers. At night, they all come out on the road because the asphalt is still hot from the sunlight, and they’re cold-blooded. That’s just another one of the challenges.”
Snakes aside, the true heart rate boosting challenge for Chmiel is completing a cross-country run in two months to honor and support U.S. military service men and women.
On September 11, he started his run on the USS Midway, one of the greatest warships in the world. He planted one foot and extended with the other toward his ultimate destination — New York City. His goal: Get there by November 11 — Veteran’s Day.
Chmiel is putting his body, mind, and spirit to the test as part of ‘BeastMode for the Brave‘ to raise money for Guardian For Heroes Foundation — the organization founded by Chris Kyle, the late Navy SEAL veteran and sniper, who was also featured in American Sniper. Guardian For Heroes helps combat veterans steer through physical and mental challenges using physical fitness.
“It really just triggered a cord inside of me,” the ultrarunner said. “Running across America is about as BeastMode as it gets.”
Springing Into Marathons
Chmiel has always been an athlete, but he didn’t catch the running bug until 2007, when he was in his mid-20’s and working 80-hour weeks on Wall Street. After a wrist injury sidelined him from the weight room and competitive sports, he laced up his sneakers and hit the West Side Highway to stay in shape.
“Within a week, I decided if I didn’t have a goal, then I wouldn’t really like running,” Chmiel said. “So, I signed up for the San Diego Marathon the next month.”
He didn’t break four hours, but he also didn’t quit after he mistakenly refueled with Vaseline at an aid station, thinking it was a gel pack. After completing about 10 marathons in two years, he decided to go bigger. He signed up for the 2009 Sahara Desert Race, where he ran 155 miles in five days. Then came more 100+ mile races on six continents and multiple Ironmans.
“I loved not competing with other people, but competing with myself to get to the finish line,” Chmiel said.
His missions, however, were far from selfish. With a goddaughter who was born with a non-functioning pituitary gland, Chmiel directed his racing efforts toward raising money for the Magic Foundation, an organization that supports children and adults who have rare growth disorders.
“I realized if I’m going to go out there and throw my life on the line, I should do it for a cause that’s near and dear to my heart, and really try to impact the lives of others,” he said. “I raised $300,000 for the Magic Foundation in seven years.”
Positivity In America
After working at Merrill Lynch for 11 years, Chmiel moved to San Diego last year to start his own company. He’s the CEO and founder of Oz Sports Group, which combines technology enhanced gaming and premium food and beverage in unique sports entertainment venues.
Settling into his more laid back west coast lifestyle, he realized that the timing was perfect to put it all on the line and dedicate months to easing the burden of those who protect our country.
“I’ve wanted to do more to support America and our troops,” he said. “As someone who got to go to a great school, got to work on Wall Street, had a great career, and never served, I felt like I needed to do more. I realize all the things I have in my life wouldn’t be possible without the sacrifices of our service men and women; some of them paying the ultimate sacrifice, and some coming home and not getting the support they need in terms of being in a dark place.”
After doing his research, he came across BeastMode for the Brave, and sent them an email in the middle of the night telling them that he wanted to run across America for their cause. Keeping in mind that 22 veterans take their own lives every day, Chmiel set his fundraising goal at $1 million.
“If we save just one family or prevent just one suicide from the funds raised and awareness generated, the run will be a huge success,” he said.
Chmiel is also doing this at a time when division within the country is peaking.
“With all the finger pointing and the hatred, everyone is on one side or the other and there’s no compromise,” Chmiel said referring to the election. “No one listens anymore. Now is a great time to put some positive news out there for America. As much as you think things are terrible here, and as much as you hate the other side, we’re all Americans. We live in the greatest country in the world and we owe that to our military heroes.”
So far, he has raised about $27,000. With 13 more states to cross and benefit concerts and events along the way, Chmiel has a core support team of four people, who travel in an old beat up RV and a pickup truck. Many more come and go along the way.
The team blasted out of San Diego with a goal of covering about 220 miles on concrete and slanted roads in the first three days. The goal was to get to Yuma, AZ for an event, but the aggressive pace did Chmiel’s body in.
“I hurt my knee that first day. The next day, I couldn’t run,” Chmiel said. “I did 50 miles, but did it all on my right side, so then I inflamed my Achilles. I have a partial tear there. Favoring that, I’ve now hurt my left ankle. I wouldn’t say my body is holding up much better than the RV. It’s hard because I don’t get any time off to get inflammation down and heal.”
Chmiel is pressing forward, though, for six to 15 hours a day. But, right now, he doesn’t expect to arrive in the Big Apple by November 11.
“We’re going to get there, but we don’t know when,” Chmiel said. “Everyone tells me, ‘No one cares when you get there, just get there.’ This is not about me trying to set a world record. Quite frankly, it’s not important to me how fast I get there. Most people do this cross country run because they want their names in lights. For me, it’s all about the mission. Every day we’re out here, it gives us an extra day to raise more money.”
So, if you’re along Chmiel’s route and want to pound out some miles with him, cheer him on, or attend one of his events, jump on board. Every ounce of support helps whether it’s financial, or simply signing the Reverse Boot Camp petition to stop solider suicide.
His expedition of three thousand miles will end after five million steps. The trek our country’s heroes make after war? Far longer and more painful than that.