I want to dedicate this post to someone who has had a profound influence in my life in the past 10 months. His name is Charlie Engle.
I had no idea who Charlie was until I got my hands on a DVD that had two running themed adventures on it. One was 50/50/50 by the talented JB Benna at Journeyfilm and told the amazing story of Dean Karnazes fifty marathons in fifty states in fifty days. Definitely worth checking out and still to this day I wonder why Dean cops so much flak from some runners??? Another story for another time eh!
The second adventure on the disc was called Running the Sahara. I had absolutely no idea what it was about, who it involved and definitely no inkling as to how much it would blow me away. I was new-ish to running at this stage I must also add but this was like someone had placed flash paper under my ass. This was pain and self discovery taken beyond the edge. I was riveted and immediately stunned by the colossal expedition ahead of these three guys. Charlie, Ray Zahab and Kevin Lin. The movie itself was co-produced and narrated by Matt Damon and directed by James Moll. Subsequently I didn't even realise any of this the first time around such was the level of captivation. So, the adventure starts with each of the athletes talking about home life etc with clips of each of them at home and training and doing what it takes before heading out to run 4,300 miles through some seriously inhospitable terrain. What really stood out though was Charlie. As soon as he opened his mouth and started talking about addiction and his fourteen years of sobriety I was very moved. I have struggled with addiction in the past and here was a guy who had hit the bottom and scraped himself (literally) off the pavement to achieve some astonishing feats. I will not say too much more about the expedition across the Sahara as I feel it really needs to be seen, not just from a running perspective but, even more so, from a human perspective, to be appreciated. Not only did they achieve what was previously thought of as physically impossible, it was also the genesis for H20 Africa which is a clean water initiative in Africa. This foundation has helped countless people and continues to do so.
So with my intrigue piqued I decided it was time to do some investigating and find out about this Charlie Engle character. I started with good old Google and found plenty of information. I was really impressed by some of his other accomplishments too. He has ran many races and and has finished prominently in some of the toughest ones too. He is the current record holder of the Death Valley Cup which is given to the person who covers the Badwater Ultramarathon 135 Mile Running Race and the Furnace Creek 508 Mile Bicycle Race the fastest in the same calendar year. Charlie achieved this in 2009 and one can't even begin to explain the level of grit it takes even finish either of these races. His quest to break the record for crossing America on foot was beautifully documented in Running America where Charlie and "Endurance King" Marshall Ulrich brought the viewer on an emotional journey through the heart of the country during the 08 election period. Epic viewing and again worth the watch.
The list goes on and on and but I really wanted to get to know the man himself as from what I had seen he looked pretty humble. So I looked him up on facebook (where the world seems to gather these days) and found him. I sent him a message just stating the obvious that he was a tremendously gutsy guy and that his candor in talking about his struggles with addiction really touched a nerve with me. He replied the next day thanking me and telling me how grateful he was for my words and that it meant a lot to him. I was so taken aback that #1 he had the time having 4,500 "friends" on fb and #2 that he came across so completely genuine and without any airs or graces. After some more communications through email I hooked up with Charlie through Skype and we began to have chats once every week or two. This was a real help to me as sometimes having another addict kick you ass into gear when you are faltering is a life saver. Charlie advised me on everything from running to sobriety and plenty in between. I can't say enough about the positive impact he has had and the friendship he has brought into my life.
Unfortunately Charlie hit a rough patch and and that is why I have waited until this moment to write this post. You see, yesterday Charlie was sentenced to 21 months in a federal prison after being found guilty last year of "12 counts of bank, mail and wire fraud and was also involved in a real estate scam". Now as you can imagine the ultra running world has been whispering and debating amongst themselves about whether what he did was wrong/justifiable etc, etc. I firstly want to say that I have come across some polarised opinions through reading other blogs and seen what has been said on various bulletin board sites. Open, respectful dialogue is healthy and when people stop having the right to express their opinions then its a sorry state of affairs. However it is annoying when some people, who don't know the full facts, go galloping of with something that has been picked up either as hearsay or an inaccurate fabrication. Chinese whispers and all the rest. I am not saying none of it is true. Charlie went to trial, was convicted and will commence his sentence on Feb 14th. He also got 100 hours of community service and five years of probation and ordered to repay $265,500 to lenders. He has been gracious about all of this and knows he messed up. Not even once in my very recent chats with him has he complained about what lies ahead. He will pay his dues with dignity and will come through it like every other challenge he has faced, but if a person is hell bent on kicking the guy in the guts even after all this then maybe a look inwards is necessary. No one is perfect and mistakes are made. What I hope is never forgotten is the fact that Charlie has helped so many people, from the water charity to inspiring addicts and beyond. I was privy to some of the letters that were written by friends and strangers (from all over the world) to the judge as a character references for Charlie ahead of yesterday. These letters were personal testaments to a tower of a man who moved them in some way or another and I felt honoured to read some of them. I know Charlie will be busy organising various things for the remainder of his time, making the most of it with his amazing boys Kevin and Brett as he is a wonderful father to those boys. Norma is the best too and has always been a source of strength to all around her.
Charlie I know will have his say now that the sentence has been handed down and at least he can tell his side of story and put straight any misinformation or erroneous reporting. As I previously stated I waited for his day in court to pass, just out of simple respect and hope that for those who don't know him so well can see that he is a decent person. I know that it's never over until it's over and Charlie will be back with many miles left in his legs and many people to continue inspiring.
See you round the bend Charlie.