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A Journey of 3,005 Miles Stood Between Chmiel and his Ultimate Goal: to Raise Awareness and Funds for Veterans

Written By: Jessica Young
Photographed By: Grey Lockwood George Chmiel

Ultra runner and extreme endurance athlete, George Chmiel hated running. Growing up as a competitive athlete, playing football, basketball, baseball and hockey, Chmiel never set foot on a track. He had no interest in distance running, much less extreme distances of 100 miles or more. Even as he slowly made his way into the sport, he didn’t enjoy it.

“I’d go on short runs from my office in New York, just up and down the street. I hated it. It was awful and monotonous. I kept asking myself, ‘Why am I doing this?’ What I eventually realized, though, was that I needed a goal. There needed to be some sort of finish line,” Chmiel said.George Chmiel

After working on Wall Street for over a decade, Chmiel felt like his fitness had turned stagnant. He suffered a wrist injury, which required surgery and recovery time, and also helped him pack on some pounds he wasn’t comfortable with. Chmiel decided he’d pick up running as a way to get back into shape and get himself off the couch. His first attempts, though, were not successful. He found no satisfaction in his sweat sessions and was, ultimately, bored and unmotivated. He knew that if he was going to enjoy running, he needed to approach it differently—not as a hobby, but as a competition.

“I have always been extremely competitive. That’s a key piece of my personality. I’m also an all-or-nothing kind of guy. I have that addictive personality. I picked up running and it wasn’t enough just to run, I had to start doing races,” Chmiel said.

Most runners ease their way into racing with shorter distances—5ks, 10ks, half marathons. But Chmiel went from zero to 26.2 miles immediately. Without any training or experience, he signed up for the 2007 Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in San Diego.

“I was so clueless. I came out to run that race with no training, no idea what I was doing. The last ten miles, I was eating the vaseline the race volunteers hand out to prevent chafing, thinking it was energy gel or goo. Who does that?” Chmiel said.

Despite his less than slick preparation for the race, Chmiel was hooked. Crossing the finish line, he said, was life-changing for him.George Chmiel

“I had learned that mind-over-matter mindset. I didn’t train at all for the race and just gutted it out. That taught me a lot about myself. We’re all capable of a lot more than we give ourselves credit for—we just have to get ourselves to push,” he said.

Chmiel’s ability to push himself beyond his conceived limits, coupled with his competitive, all-or-nothing nature, led him to endurance running and paved the way for him to become an extreme athlete. Since his marathon debut in 2007, he has completed an additional 25 marathons, run 100-mile races on six continents and is one of over 200 people to have completed the 4 Deserts Race Series.George Chmiel

As impressive as his running resume is, Chmiel knew he could do more. He wanted to couple his competitive addiction and knack for conquering massive distances under extreme circumstances with philanthropy. Much like racing, Chmiel has also found success (and a goal) in his efforts to fundraise for charitable organizations. Most notably, he has raised more than $250,000 for the MAGIC Foundation, which works to fight children’s growth disorders. He was inspired to start raising money for MAGIC after seeing his goddaughter, Luci, face down her own illness.

Chmiel set his sights on another cause. In September, he embarked a cross-country journey that would take him from the deck of the USS Midway in San Diego, to Ground Zero in New York City. Chmiel planned to tackle the 3,005-mile trek on foot, hoping to run upwards of 50 miles a day. This journey, an estimated five million steps, was all part of Chmiel’s effort to raise funds and awareness for the Guardian for Heroes Foundation, an operation that helps combat veterans navigate physical, mental, and emotional struggles through physical fitness. Chmiel promoted his quest under the banner of BeastMode for the Brave, an initiative to raise funds and increase awareness of veteran issues by using one’s skills, talents and passions in any desired capacity.George Chmiel

Chmiel set the ambitious goal of raising $1 million for the organization. Although he fell short of his goal, he considers his effort an absolute success. His run, which he had initially planned to take just over two months, ended up doubling in length. This, though, according to Chmiel, was a blessing. He, along with his crew of more than twenty volunteers, wound their way across the country, meeting people and experiencing things that his original, planned pace, never would have allowed.

“Especially with how divided our country has become, I wanted to put together this message of gratitude, of unit. This event was so much bigger than the sum of the parts. At times in life, people just want to be a part of something—part of something bigger than themselves. This was our chance to give people that experience,” Chmiel said.

On Jan. 24, Chmiel finished the journey he started in San Diego on Sept. 11. He ran for 93 days, averaging about 33 miles a day, considerably longer and at a less hectic pace that his original projection. He was able to rake in about $300,000, noting that the entire experience was nothing short of a success for him. As a runner who has never DNF’d (did not finish) a race, he recognizes that not every run will go according to plan, but reaching his goal, in whatever shape possible, is the ultimate mission. For Chmiel, that goal was about awareness, understanding and advocacy, drawing attention to the struggles of American veterans and the challenges they are facing on a daily basis.George Chmiel

“At the end of the day, it wasn’t about the money we raised or how fast we ran. It was about the awareness and the lives that we touched. You can’t put a pricetag on the experiences that we shared, or the people that came out and shared their experiences for the first time. If you’re worried about the dollar amount, then you’re not understanding the mission,” Chmiel said.

For Chmiel, his mission doesn’t end with this finish line. He already has a new mission in mind. He is making it a priority to continue driving the message of unity and social innovation in the nonprofit world by launching The Patriot Games Enterprise. TPG is a national fundraising competition between 25 non-profits that produces unique and extreme 1-day physical fitness challenges designed to promote social good while simultaneously creating a broad platform to raise awareness and money for each of the participating charities. The inaugural games are scheduled for Spring 2018.

Breaking It Down: On Jan. 24, 2017, Chmiel finished the journey he started in San Diego on Sept. 11. He ran for 93 days, averaging about 33 miles a day.

The Patriot Games Enterprise: Chmiel is launching TPG, a national fundraising competition between 25 nonprofits that produces unique and extreme one-day physical fitness challenges designed to promote social good while simultaneously creating a broad platform to raise awareness and money for each of the participating charities. The inaugural games are scheduled for Spring 2018.

George Chmiel | @runacrossamerica

Photoshoot Location:
USS Midway Museum
910 N Harbor Dr
San Diego, CA 92101
George Chmiel Conquered the Country One Step at a Time During His 3,005 Mile Run