Daren Wendell has spent the last 14 weeks running across America, completing 100 daily ultra-marathons (29.9 miles) to raise money for improved water sanitation in Ethiopia (Africa). The modern-day Forrest Gump began his cross-country sprint Jan. 1 at the Santa Monica Pier in Southern California and ended it Friday in New York’s Times Square. The punishing 2,900-mile trek wound through 14 states, varied terrain and environmental extremes—subjecting Wendell to blazing Mojave Desert heat, dusty Texas flatlands, 48 mph wind gusts (Oklahoma), icy paths (Missouri) and fog-shrouded fields (Illinois).
Wendell, 33, also encountered some very bizarre bumps in the road. While passing through New Mexico on Route 66, for example, the Ohio native was chased by an old woman who mistakenly thought he had disturbed her cows.
Yet other than eccentric old women, a few lost toenails and 10 sole-worn sneakers, Wendell’s journey virtually was trouble-free, an impressive feat considering the number of miles he ran and the near constant stress he placed on the metal rod in his shin. “You can actually touch the screws through my skin,” Wendell told the New York Daily News on April 8, reflecting on his accomplishment less than 100 miles from the finish line. “The technology is pretty incredible when I can have a nail through my bone and not feel it when I put 45,000 steps on it per day.”
That nail became a permanent part of Wendell’s anatomy nearly a decade ago after the self-proclaimed fundraiser fractured his tibia during an indoor soccer game. Doctors gave him the choice of healing naturally (by cast) or with help; Wendell chose the latter, reinforcing his bone with a T2 Tibial Nail from Stryker Corp., and returned to the soccer field 10 months later.
“I was able to do all of the things I was able to do before,” Wendell said upon his St. Patrick’s Day arrival in Plainfield, Ind., where he unexpectedly reconnected with the orthopedic surgeon who fitted him with the Stryker Nail. After completing his allotted run that day, Wendell received an impromptu physical examination in outside the town’s K-Mart by Anthony Sorkin, M.D., an orthopedic trauma surgeon at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital in nearby Indianapolis. The exam revealed a near-perfectly healed bone—a testament, Sorkin claims, to the efficacy of metal rod fracture fixation (used much less frequently at the time of Wendell’s injury).
“When you’re in a cast, you may have deformity, it might not be exactly lined up,” Sorkin told the Indianapolis Star-Tribune, adding the metal rod approach allows patients to become mobile more swiftly. “His [Wendell’s] leg is exactly lined up. He’s as close to his former anatomy as you can get. It’s a testament to the ability of people to return and recover to some sort of function.”
His age and general good health helped, too.
“Back when they put it in, it [the nail] was new technology,” Wendell recalled to Runner’s World. “They gave me the option of a cast and [a long] amount of recovery time or try this new technology with a shorter amount of recovery. I said, ‘I’ll take that!’ ”