A tribute to Team 99 Counties

Community: Cedar Rapids wowed by Daren Schumaker and Dennis Lee

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Editors’ note: Thomas Wolle of Cedar Rapids is an avid runner who enjoys the “great outdoors.”

We all set goals, some large and some small, and our successes and failures are as varied as our goals.

Those who embark on running as a sport (whether competitive or recreationally) have an assortment of goals, too. Some people progress from being a couch potato to eventually completing a 5K race. Others have a half-marathon on their “bucket list.” And some decide to take the plunge and train for and complete marathon, all 26.2 miles.

Regardless of the end goal, the sense of accomplishment as we sprint — or sometimes limp — across the finish line brings chills from head to toe. The hard work has paid off; the goal has been met. Simply put, it feels good.

What Daren Shumaker and Dennis Lee — Team 99 Counties — have accomplished stretches beyond that fleeting “runner’s high.” It is jaw dropping. It started just seven years ago, in December 2009. While kicking back at a Christmas party and wondering where to run the next morning, they decided to just run across Benton County. After all, they are distance runners and frequently do a “long run” (15 miles or more) on the weekend. So why not just run from the west side of a county to the east?

Seven years later, having endured painful injuries, brutal winds, bone-chilling cold, oppressive heat and humidity, and pelting rain, they have one county remaining to cross in our great 99-county state.

On Saturday, Schumaker and Lee will, for the 99th time, drive together to the west side of a county, and run to the east. Each run has been at least a marathon, some of them significantly more. They have raised more than $7,000 for the American Heart Association (and spent well more than that, of their own funds, in the process). They have formed a bond that would rival or surpass those of any teammates on sports teams.

As I try to comprehend what these two have done, I think back to 2013 when I ran four marathons, including Boston. It was fun to be sure, yet very challenging. Several things helped pull me through, including lively crowds cheering wildly as runners passed by, many fellow runners on the course, little kids eagerly seeking high-fives as I ran by, funny signs from onlookers (“this is a lot of work for a free banana” or “toenails are overrated”), loud music by live bands at various points along the route and water stops where kind volunteers hand out water Gatorade, and an assortment of energy gels and snacks.

Gravel roads in Ringgold County (or any of the other 98)? Not so much. These guys have pressed on through weather that is too cold or windy for most people to even take the dog for a walk, or too hot to venture out of the cool air-conditioned house on a mid-July day. No (cow) bells and whistles for these guys. For at least 80 of the counties, it has been Lee’s supportive wife, Kris, who has driven with them, set out water along the route and encouraged them as they tackled hill after hill, obstacle after obstacle.

They set a goal most of us — even those who are serious runners — would not dream up in their wildest of dreams. And now, they are ready to toe the line of their 99th and final county.

Wow. Kudos, Daren Shumaker and Dennis Lee. You are indeed the epitome of “Inspiration through Perspiration.”

Let us follow their lead and, in Schumaker’s words, build bridges to allow us to transition to better, healthier lives.

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