Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Area News

August 3, 2012

Woman running across country to benefit others, break record

CROSSVILLE — Tracee Gruskiewicz loves to run. She loves animals and enjoys helping others. On May 9 she combined all three and committed to making a run across the continental United States.

With the support of Robert Simmons and Bethany Smith as a travel-along crew, Gruskiewicz set out from Huntington Beach, CA, headed to Wilmington, NC.

Earlier this week on Tuesday, Gruskiewicz made her way through Crossville along Hwy. 70. As she came down West Ave., she stopped at the Chronicle office for a break.

"I've only got 458 miles to go," Gruskiewicz said as she chuckled. "That sounds so funny, but it's really not that far compared to the entire trip."

Gruskiewicz, a pre-veterinary medicine student at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, TN, plans to set a new world record for the youngest woman to run across the country the fastest time.

"I knew I had to have a purpose for the run. It's not just like going out for a run. It's not a run you can really prepare for," Gruskiewicz said.

There's more to the run than just breaking a world record.

The purpose of the run is to raise awareness about disabilities and using therapy animals to help treat or manage the physical or mental illness while raising funds for this cause.

As Gruskiewicz was running late for class one day, she literally ran into the classroom and her professor remarked that she looked as if she had been running across country.

"After he said that, something just clicked and I thought 'you know, that's a good idea.' But I knew I needed a purpose," Gruskiewicz said.

The purpose started after Gruskiewicz attended a church retreat at Panama City Beach last fall. While there she learned about Cole Ferguson, 21, who had cerebral palsy and was confined to a wheelchair, and his mother Karen. The two were killed, Oct. 11, 2011. A man who shot them had been arrested previously for abusing Cole, but was out of jail on bail. After killing Cole and Karen, the man drove to his home and killed himself.

The run is called “Cole’s Run” in honor of Cole and his mother, who police say had a chance to get away but she would not leave her son.

Cole had two younger brothers, Connor, 14, and Casey, 5. A college fund has been established for them. Gruskiewicz is calling her cross-country journey "Cole’s Run" to honor them.

According to Gruskiewicz's website, everything raised above that $10,000 will go toward funding 4 Feet 2 Treat, a non-profit organization Gruskiewicz created in Clarksville as a result from her involvement with tornado relief in Joplin, MO.

Through her volunteer work there, Gruskiewicz became aware of therapy animals being used to help people with mental and physical disabilities.

4 Feet 2 Treat will help dogs and their owners through a certified therapy dog training program, and take trained dogs to hospitals, veterans hospitals, nursing homes or where ever the dogs can help.

"They can really make a difference in people's lives. It amazing to see," Gruskiewicz said.

As the team traveled through Clarksville last week, one of the crew members, Simmons, had to stay for his job at the Austin Peay State University campus bookstore. Kayla Griggs replaced him for the remainder of the trip.

"It's been a long trip, but a wonderful journey. There have been mountains and canyons along the way, and the desert, but what's really great is when people come out and support me and run along with me — especially people who don't normally get out and run," Gruskiewicz said.

Gruskiewicz also has local ties to Crossville because her boyfriend, Chad Pugh, is from Crossville.

"It was really hard to leave today," Gruskiewicz said. "It's been great running through Tennessee and I have gotten so much support."

Gruskiewicz originally planned on ending her trip in Wimington, NC, but recently changed her route to complete the journey in Myrtle Beach, SC instead.

"It will add another state and shave off some miles," Gruskiewicz said.

In order to make the world record, Gruskiewicz has to complete the trip in 96 days.

"The way it's planned now, I should be there Aug. 11. I have to be there by the 12th in order to make the record," Gruskiewicz said.

Gruskiewicz, who normally runs three to five miles per day, has been running anywhere from 35 to 45 per day and has a goal of 235 miles per week in order to beat the record.

Last year, Whitney Henderson, who was 24, ran from Fort Lauderdale, FL, to Seal Beach, CA, in 97 days.

Gruskiewicz is 24 and is one of 10 children.

Steve Gruskiewicz provided the Cole’s Run team with a pickup and camper. And Freedom Deli in Clarksville agreed to be a sponsor. That made it possible for Gruskiewicz, Simmons and Smith to drive from Missouri to California.

She wears a Freedom Deli T-shirt every day. The shirt also lists her other sponsors.

“I can’t thank the sponsors enough. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to do this,” Gruskiewicz said.

Runners’ Hub in Clarksville and Old School Bagels in Stillwater, OK are also sponsoring "Cole’s Run."

The way the trip works is the crew plans the route and follows Gruskiewicz within three to four miles. The crew then drives ahead of her by a few miles and she takes a break about every two hours for food and water.

They park the camper and stay in it overnight and on some occasions stay with friends or people they meet along the route. Gruskiewicz said they have encountered many nice people along the way who have helped them tremendously.

What keeps Gruskiewicz running is not only her love of running, goal of making the world record, but also helping others.

Gruskiewicz met with one of her sponsors and his wife in Stillwater, OK, where they visited with Bill Ford and his wife, Sheila, who own Old School Bagels. Ford who is a runner and friend of one of her professors, has been encouraging Gruskiewicz and sending her messages along the way. Ford, who has health problems and sometimes is unable to run, joined her and ran for several miles.

"It was very inspirational to me and really meant a lot," Gruskiewicz said. "I have a lot of people counting on me. I can't just give up and let all of them down."

There is a daily blog online where Gruskiewicz or the crew updates with pictures, news and highlights from the trip.

When Gruskiewicz left from the Chronicle on Tuesday she had 30 more miles to run for the day.

"I want to try and get as much in as I can today because it's only supposed to be 85 degrees," she said. "It's perfect running weather."

When Gruskiewicz ran through the Mojave Desert and through Texas, she encountered temperatures ranging from 110 to 115 degrees.

If you would like to learn more about Gruskiewicz and follow her along the remainder of her journey, visit her website at www.4feet2treat.com. There is a link for donations to "Cole’s Run" online at 4feet2treat.com, or donations can be mailed to 4 Feet 2 Treat, 523 Madison St., Clarksville, TN, 37040.

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