By Amy Strauss
Jesper Olsen, a 34-year-old Dane, set out on a 16,263-mile run on January 1, 2004 from Greenwich, London.
Twenty-two months and 28 pairs of running shoes later, he came full circle, completing a record-breaking run around the globe.
"Forest Gump is a nice movie, but it does not happen like that," the University of Copenhagen political scientist said as he shared experiences from his documented run on May 24 at St. Columbkill Church, Colebrookdale Township.
When asked why he decided to run around the world, Olsen replied, "Why not."
Believing it was about time for a Danish man to do something on a world scale, Olsen embarked on the journey he developed with support from Russian runner Alexander Korotkov, who intended to complete the run with Olsen but stopped after 6,076 miles in east Siberia.
The most grueling day entailed a 62-mile run. Other days had Olsen sweltering in temperatures as hot as 117 degrees Fahrenheit and shivering in weather as cold as four degrees below zero.
Olsen's world run had to be over 16,000 miles and cover four continents, each from "border to border, coast to coast," in order to fall under the official rules of the Guinness Book of World Records.
Over a period of two years, he spent three to four hours a day planning for the journey by contacting the people who could help him complete the world run and raise money to support the mission.
The budget for the expedition was about $40,000. Olsen sold his home to raise money for the trip, which cost less than expected due to the hospitality he encountered along the way. Half of the money came from sponsors including Asics, a Japan-based maker of sports shoes; Computershare, Euman Lifepilot and Pepper Technologies.
"It was important to not expect to have a nice place to stay each night, or to be able to enjoy delicious meals," Olsen said. "I roughed it and ate cold spaghetti."
One experience he recalled was when he gave away his rain jacket as a parting gift in Russia. It rained for the next eight days straight.
"It was not pleasant," Olsen smiled.
A runner since age 12, he found the run possible by treating his body gently, which made it easier for him to achieve greater distances. Olsen typically ran nine- and 10-minute miles, pushing a carriage similar to a baby stroller to hold his supplies, which included food, maps, water, a tent and extra sneakers.
Olsen's 22-month odyssey took him through 14 countries: England, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Russia (including the grueling terrain of Siberia) Japan, Australia, USA and Canada.
Going to Japan was always a "big dream" of Olsen's, and although he said "everything that could go wrong did," he appreciated the help he received.
When reaching the United States, 25 pounds lighter than his beginning weight of 165 pounds, Olsen was able to enjoy the foods he loves to indulge in: lots of chocolate, soft drinks, McDonald's and Burger King.
While running from Vancouver to New York, his route took him along routes 23 and 100, south of Coventry, where local runners from Master Kim's Black Belt Academy in Boyertown joined him for a jog.
Linda Deveney of Barto felt that what Olsen was doing was a neat thing. "It seemed like such an amazing feat, and running with Jesper was gracious training for my first marathon run."
Christine Clouser of Oley was contacted through Deveney to help take part in Olsen's crew. "It was a great neighborhood experience. We even had an eight-year-old running with Jesper."
With one world run under his belt, Jesper Olsen is determined to do it again in July 2008. Next time, he plans to include South America and Africa in his journey.
"The purest of nature is out in the world, fun people and clean air. It's amazing to see the cultures you have examined in theories, in person," Olsen said.
Contact intern Amy Strauss at 610-367-6041, ext. 240 or email@example.com.