Run, Rae, run | VailDaily.com

Run, Rae, run

CVR Crosscountry Barefoot JM 9-6-12

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – See Rae run. See Rae run far.

Rae Heim is running barefoot across the United States to raise money to buy shoes for needy children.

Heim, 18, of Carroll, Iowa, started her cross-country trek in Boston in April and should reach Huntington Beach, Calif., in November.

She’s heard every Forrest Gump wisecrack ever conceived.

She strode into the Vail Valley on Thursday morning and will be making her way across the valley all week.

She started this adventure because it seemed like a good idea at the time and still does.

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It’s not marketing for some shoe company; she generally doesn’t wear shoes. She’s raising money for Soles4Souls, an organization that provides shoes for the poor in the U.S. and 128 countries around the world.

“I’m running barefoot so other kids don’t have to. In countries like Haiti, kids can’t go to school unless they have shoes. A pair of shoes really does change a kid’s life,” Heim said.

Soles4Souls can buy a pair of shoes for $1. So far, Heim’s efforts have generated the cash for thousands of pairs of shoes through her website. That doesn’t include the 3,200 pairs of shoes the people of Golden bought while she was running through their town.

Soles4Souls accepts new and gently used shoes. For every dollar donated, 55 cents puts shoes on people in the U.S. The rest goes to people in 128 other countries.

She’s been running barefoot for a year and a half, after she lost a toenail and had to shed her shoes. She has learned two absolute truths.

“Use your brain, and listen to your body,” she said.

The first couple of weeks, she didn’t follow her own good counsel. Too many miles in too few days left her beat up and exhausted, her ankle twisted, her Achilles tendon painful and her knee sore. She sat on the side of the road and cried and then called her mom.

Her mom, a former member of the Canadian Olympic rowing team, changed her schedule, reduced the daily mileage and included some rest days. She runs four days, rests two days and averages about 20 miles per day.

Since then, it’s been smooth sailing … mostly.

“There are always those moments when I’m so exhausted I don’t know why I’m still doing it. But then someone steps up with a donation or I think of the people we’re helping and it keeps me going,” Heim said.

She left Boston on April 1 and took a circuitous route out of New England. The people of New Jersey love their mamas and babies very much, but several drivers came close to running down the barefoot runner.

Gravel roads and roads littered with nails and debris see her strap on a pair of shoes, as do the 90- to 100-degree days when the asphalt burns the leathery soles of her feet.

When she got to Ohio, people started asking if she needed a ride, which opens the door to conversation and usually donations.

All of the roads in Nebraska were nice -smooth shoulders, nice and wide.

In Colorado, it’s not unusual to see someone out running, so she hasn’t had many issues, she said.

She said she used to hate running so much that she dreaded rounding the bases in a softball game. That was two barefoot marathons ago.

Heim met Marshall Ulrich at a marathon in Des Moines, Iowa, in October. Ulrich’s book, “Running on Empty,” chronicled his own run across the U.S.

“I am very much in love with my former enemy,” she said.

Her mom follows her with a GPS, and people along the way help look out for her.

“The kindness I’ve seen in people surprised me. You always hear all that’s wrong with the world, but I’ve seen nothing but good in the world,” Heim said.

Most nights, Heim stays with host families. She runs, she rests, and in between, she stays with friends she has never met before.

She carries everything in a three-wheeled jogging stroller. So far, she’s been “pulled over” by police 13 times in various states. Mostly they’re curious, as anyone would be, why an attractive young woman is running barefoot along a highway pushing a stroller.

“Some people think I’m crazy; some think I’m inspired. They almost all wish me good luck,” Heim said.

She left Pittsburgh and meandered to Wyoming and then south to Colorado. She was running east to west through the valley last week.

“I’d be much further if I’d taken a straight shot,” Heim said, then added that she wouldn’t have had as much fun.

“I’m just enjoying the ride,” she said.

Heim celebrated her 18th birthday three days before she left Boston. When she’s done with this run, she’ll go to college, maybe write a book.

“I’ll figure it out when I get there,” she said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.