Walker making courageous trip

FAIRMONT – “Have you ever had an overwhelming desire or passion in your heart to want to do something with your life that is bigger than yourself? To push yourself beyond what you thought you were capable of?”

Those are the opening words on Stacie Eichinger’s website – walk4courage.com – explaining why the 29-year-old Tucson, Ariz., woman is walking across America.

“Originally in high school I read a book, ‘Walk Across America,’ by Peter Jenkins,” Eichinger said of how she became inspired. “Finally, I had the time and the opportunity, and I knew I wanted to do it for a cause. The ‘Beads of Courage’ is founded out of Tucson and I volunteered there and I had an opportunity to meet the kids in the program. I saw the difference it made, and I knew I wanted to walk for them.”

Beads of Courage provides innovative, arts-in-medicine supportive care programs for children coping with serious illness, their families and health care providers who care for them. For every procedure a child in treatment receives, there is a specific bead to go with it.

Eichinger is walking with little shoe beads she will give to children she meets at the hospitals along her route, with 20 known to be a part of the Beads of Courage program, including the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

Eichinger began her journey May 8 on the coast of Washington, in a town called Ocean Shores. She plans to finish her walk in Savannah, Ga., in February.

“I am just over 2,000 miles right now,” she said. “So far, I’ve only visited three hospitals, but now that I’m further along, I’ll get to see and meet more kids and pass out more beads.”

Eichinger has met many people and families who have opened their homes to her, and she also has gotten in a few side trips.

“I’ve gotten to go kayaking,” she said. “I went through Yellowstone … I went through Sturgis on the first day of the rally. It was there that I got the most calls for concern about a woman walking on the Interstate with a baby.”

The canopied cart she uses to push her supplies could be mistaken for a stroller at first glance. But she usually gets some words of support once police or concerned citizens learn about her cause.

“I don’t have any sponsors, just people donating,” she said.

While in south-central Minnesota, Eichinger has been in contact with a family in Blue Earth with whom she will be staying for a few nights.

There has been one downside during her time in Minnesota.

“I only had two close calls of being hit my whole time,” Eichinger said. “But since leaving Jackson, I’ve had five. All five of those times, I saw the people were looking at their phones.”

Eichinger also noted the heavy semi traffic and many speeding vehicles.

“It’s stressful,” she admits. “You have to stay alert, and it takes a lot out of you,” she said as a semi blasted past, rocking her cart.

The only other obstacle along the walk has been Mother Nature, “… either dealing with blazing, nasty hot, or just having bad head winds,” Eichinger said.

Another issue is shoes.

“This is pair No. 4,” said Eichinger, pointing at her feet. “And pair No. 5 is packed in the cart. I’ve been going through about a pair a month.”

Thanks to technology and social media, Eichinger is able to keep everyone posted on her whereabouts, and they can donate to her online.

“I have met nothing but wonderful people along the way, and have been humbled by the support and generosity of perfect strangers,” she said. “People keep telling me about all the crazy people out there, and I keep looking, but I haven’t found them yet.”

Donations can be made to Eichinger and to Beads of Courage at walk4.courage.com

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