The man who ran to Atlanta

Hitchcock and VandeSteeg
Terry Hitchcock, who in 1996 ran from the Twin Cities to Atlanta, and Tim VandeSteeg who directed "My Run," a film about Hitchcock's story.
MPR Photo/Euan Kerr

To many people, the idea of running a marathon is beyond comprehension. So how about 75 marathons in a row? That's exactly what Twin Citian Terry Hitchcock did back in 1996.

"My Run," a film about his story will get its local premier at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival.

Hitchcock is under no illusions about how some people see him, or what he did. He's been called an idiot.

"And you know, you kind of smile about that because I was an idiot, and to do that was kind of absurd. But I did it. And I made it, and I proved to everybody that nothing is impossible," he said.

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The story goes like this: In 1984, after years of a happy marriage which had produced three children, Terry lost his beloved wife, Sue, to breast cancer.

Running through Iowa
Terry Hitchcock on the road in Iowa during his run to Atlanta.
Image courtesy Indiewood Films

Even as he grieved in his Minneapolis home, Terry struggled with his new role as a single parent. In the film, Hitchcock's oldest, Teri-Sue, said her father made sure they always had dinner together, despite his lack of domestic skills.

"He had this fish stew," she said. "It was cabbage and carrots and fish, and something else. For kids it was not dinner. It was awful."

Somehow they managed, and 10 years after his wife's death, Terry Hitchcock began feeling he wanted to do something to raise awareness the struggles facing of single parent families.

He was a fan of Terry Fox, the young man from Winnipeg who attempted to run across Canada, despite having lost one leg to cancer.

"I said, 'Maybe we can run someplace,' and one of my children said 'Well, let's run to California, as a family.' Of course I smiled because I played racquetball, but I certainly was no runner," he said.

He was also 56, with a heart condition.

"To do that was kind of absurd. But I did it. And I made it, and I proved to everybody that nothing is impossible."

Yet the idea took hold. Hitchcock decided to run from the Twin Cities to Atlanta, planning to arrive there for the opening of the 1996 Olympic Games. He began training.

He also put together a support team of family and friends to help on the road, and to arrange interviews with radio, TV and newspapers along the way.

His plan was to run slowly, but for a long time, about 8 hours a day. Yet when he finally set off he wasn't prepared for the pain-filled realities of running the road.

"I remember the first big hill I came to on the first day, I wasn't sure I was going to get down the hill because your body is at a different angle," he says. "And I actually, for a short time during that, going down that hill, I actually scooted on my butt. I mean it was terrible."

Outwardly Hitchcock put on a positive face. Now he admits he thought about quitting each and every day.

"Actually it was probably many times during that day," he said. "It was very hard."

It only got harder as they ran further south into warmer temperatures. He developed stress fractures in his knee and ankles. Hitchcock admits he became tough to live with as the stress of the run took its toll.

Terry Hitchcock collapses in pain near the end of his run. He discovered soon after he had developed hairline fractures in his legs from the stress of his journey.
Image courtesy Indiewood Films

It was dangerous, too. Once a pick-up driver deliberately ran him off the road. However each time he thought about quitting he would remember someone he had met along the way who had urged him to keep going.

"We all have our daily marathons, that we all run every day, if you will," he said. "So what I was trying to do, is show everybody that you can do it, you can get through your day, no matter what your marathon is."

After running the equivalent of a marathon every day for 75 days he arrived in Atlanta to a cheering crowd.

Fast forward 10 years to film director Tim Vandesteeg, who was looking for a subject for a movie.

"I love those movies where people just get beat down, and beat down, and beat down, and just fight their way back," he said.

Vandesteeg combined footage shot on the road with new interviews to make "My Run." Now he and Hitchcock are on the festival circuit. He says this is not necessarily a movie about running, recalling a comment made by a marathoner in the audience at the Sedona International Film Festival in Arizona.

"He said, 'I came here because I wanted to be inspired to run. Instead I was inspired to love my wife more,'" Vandesteeg said. "That comment was the greatest comment that I've ever received on film making, and that's the reason we made this movie."

Now Vandesteeg and Hitchcock are bringing the film home to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival.

Hitchcock has written a companion book "A Father's Odyssey" and they say they will keep working together to tell the story.

Hitchcock, who is 71 now, says he still runs on the treadmill at the gym. But on the highway?

"No way," he laughs. "And would I do it again? Absolutely not."

The DVD of "My Run" will be released in the fall.