Feature article: Runner with a cause

By Todd Dills | June 01, 2010

On her way toward completion of a nine-month journey across the United States, Jasmine “Jazzy” Jordan inspires legions of drivers, raises money to benefit philanthropic medical organization devoted to the industry

In early March, 17-year-old Jasmine “Jazzy” Jordan had only just made Middle Tennessee. She needed to average 40 miles a day for the remainder of her run — on foot, mind you, no diesel here — from Los Angeles to get to New York City by the date she’d originally chosen to finish, April 17, the anniversary of the reason she happened to be at the Tanbark Campground in rural Dickson, Tenn., where I first met her. She was averaging 15 miles a day, she said. “I’ll keep my steady pace right now and slowly increase it, then the last three weeks will pick it up and really push myself a lot.”

As of mid-April, Jasmine Jordan had logged upwards of 2,400 miles on foot since she began her trek in Los Angeles in the fall last year; her father, Lee (pictured), meanwhile had put 31,000 and more on their Ford F250 pilot truck’s odometer, running their travel trailer in 50-mile increments from base camp to base camp and Jazzy herself back and forth on her typically two-a-day 7- to 14-mile road runs.

By Sunday, March 28, she was in Nashville, Tenn., with the family of Sheila Grothe, who passed away on April 17, 2009, after a nearly two-year battle with cancer. Randy, Britney and Derrick Grothe ran with Jazzy for part of her 7.5 miles that day. Running with her for the entirety was 54-year-old Doug Jones, owner of Nashville’s Spec Records and coproducer of the Truckers Tracks series of CDs (see “Making Trucking Tracks,” p. 38). Jones, who is blind, and Jordan ran tethered to one another by no more than a shoestring.

It was a bright moment in Jordan’s journey to honor Grothe’s life and highlight the health-care and insurance needs of the nation’s truck drivers. Her beneficiary of choice is the St. Christopher Truckers Development and Relief Fund (truckersfund.com), a nonprofit launched in late 2007 to provide financial and other assistance to drivers without insurance and in need of medical help. Jordan’s father, Lee, says she identified the fund as beneficiary “almost immediately” upon deciding to embark on the journey: “Jazzy grew up in a trucking family and is aware of the lack of health insurance that goes along with the trucking business. St. Christopher does a lot of wonderful things with medical research and sleep apnea testing and more.” Having only one part-time employee, Lee says, “Ninety-five percent of the money that goes to the fund goes to helping drivers.

Since Jordan began her run Sept. 1, 2009, says St. Christopher executive director Donna Kennedy, “the number of applications that we’ve gotten for help has gone up dramatically.”

Fund donations, too, have most definitely been affected by Jordan’s effort, says Kennedy, though the cumulative numbers are “hard to quantify, as per her father’s request we’ve not added up what’s been donated on her behalf.” Promotions like the one Jordan posted on her Facebook fan page suggesting donations of $17 in honor of her 17th birthday, Dec. 17, have, most definitely, spurred Jordan’s followers on. “We got a lot of those,” Kennedy says.

But with the surge in applications for assistance combined with the down economy, which has limited charitable and philanthropic giving these past two years, Kennedy says, it’s been hard to keep up. “We try to help everyone,” she says. “With the turning economy, we really had a decrease in the donations coming in. We try to help everyone we can in a smaller way today. We struggle with it every week,” even with such a high-profile face out on the road for the cause.

By the time you read this, Jordan may well have become the youngest-ever woman to run across the United States, says Paul Staso, founder and president of the P.A.C.E. Fitness Foundation (www.pacetrek.com) and a cross-country runner himself. “By what I understand, Jazzy is the youngest female to ever attempt a run across America, and if she completes it she should become the youngest female to do so.”

Of the 229 people “throughout history that have run/walked across the United States,” Staso adds, “only 13” have been women. “Some have gone coast to coast. Some have gone from one major city to another major city, such as Los Angeles to New York.”

On her route from just east of Los Angeles (chosen due to 2009 wildfires that left L.A. proper in a cloud of smoke) to Times Square in New York City, Jordan has, increasingly, transformed towns she passes through, from Texarkana, Ark., to Memphis and Knoxville, Tenn., to veritable events. In West Memphis, Ark., Jordan says, she got “just one of the best welcomings I’ve had. There were two ladder trucks with the American flag hanging from them. There was a big line of kids, because the high school was right there where I passed. There were teachers who joined in to run with me, and students.” The mayor cancelled previously laid plans to be there, and when he saw that Jordan was walking with a slight limp because of ankle problems, he “called the president of the hospital, and the city of West Memphis took care of all the medical bills and everything,” says Lee Jordan.

Truckers like Fikes Truck Line-leased flatbedder Scott Grenerth, who rode his Schwinn bicycle with Jordan the day I ran with her through Donelson and Hermitage in Metro Nashville, have followed her story from the get-go. Her Facebook fan page, as of mid-April, boasted nearly 4,000 fans, many of them among the nation’s truck drivers and owner-operators. “The truckers have just been incredible — donating, buying t-shirts,” says Lee, who when runners haven’t been around to join Jazzy on her haul has at least been well-appreciated company in the pilot Ford F250 at her back. “Truckers have on many occasions randomly dropped by, meeting Jazzy and giving us supplies.”

The financial toll of Jordan’s run isn’t inconsiderable. Luckily, she drew sponsorships from footwear and apparel maker Saucony for her running shoes — “Jazzy’s rotating between the No. 9 and No. 10 pair of running shoes now,” her father said March 30 — and clothing and from trucking industry companies like Sta-Rat for about $300 a month in fuel, Cat Scales (with a cash donation) and the makers of the Turbo 3000D. Sleep Dog Mattresses donated the mattresses in the Aljo travel trailer in which Jordan and her father make base camps at RV parks and campgrounds in 50-mile increments up and down the route.

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