By Luke Kenton
As the Oscar-winning 1994 motion picture will tell you, Forrest Gump’s mother famously quipped ‘Life’s like a box of chocolates’, but it was actually the words of his own late mother that inspired this British runner to recreate an iconic scene from the same film.
Remembering the words of his recently-passed mother to “do one thing in life that makes a difference,” Rob Pope, from Liverpool, set out to turn a 15-year pipe dream into a reality, becoming the first man to run Forrest Gump’s fictitious route across America.
Beginning in Mobile, Alabama, on September 16th, 2016, a 38-year-old Rob – who was the same age as Tom Hanks when he portrayed the revered character – set out on the epic journey that would see him travel the equivalent distance of more than 590 marathons.
Travelling from east to west twice over, and back again, Rob has ditched the iconic plaid shirt and chino shorts for a bushy beard and a ‘Bubba-Gump’ hat – much like Forrest’s transformation in the film.
Averaging a staggering 40 miles a day, Rob has combatted against ever-changing climates of blistering heat; traitorous rain; and relentless snowfall, raising money for his two chosen charities, World Wildlife Foundation and Peace Direct.
Despite suffering a series of major injuries, Rob has run an unbelievable 15,348 miles in just 409 days, ticking off a number of landmarks from the film along the way – including the Marshall Point Lighthouse, in St. George, Maine.
With just 200 more miles before he crosses the finish line, Rob admits the journey has been an exhausting one, both physically and emotionally; but cheers of ‘Run, Forrest, Run’ have often helped carry him through.
The now 39-year-old veterinarian, said: “I first had the idea to run across America 15 years ago. I thought it would be an incredible way to see a fascinating and beautiful country.
“I’d had a number of half-hearted attempts trying to put a run together, but after watching Forrest Gump one night, I had a light-bulb moment.
“My mum, who unfortunately isn’t around anymore, was very aware of our impact on the word and always urged me to ‘do one thing in life that makes a difference’.
“I hoped that this run would be an opportunity to do just that – I’m sure she would be very proud.
“My girlfriend, Nadine; friends; and family have been hugely supportive – I think they’ve been half expecting me to do something crazy like this for a while.”
Though an accomplished marathon runner, Rob admits he wishes he’d done more training prior to his arrival in the US, as a series of nasty injuries have nearly brought a premature end to his inconceivable passage.
From an inflamed Achilles to a quadriceps tear, the Liverpudlian has had to consistently grimace through the physical pain, while combatting the psychological toll of exhaustion, too.
Rob said: “I didn’t do any training specifically for the run. I wish I had done, and maintained more core work.
“You didn’t see Forrest doing a Rocky montage in the scenes building up to his run – he just put on his shoes and went. I figured I’d do the same.
“The journey has been incredibly difficult – I’ve had a few major injuries, and even food poisoning, too.
“After my first injury – anterior tibial tendinitis – only 400 miles in, I had a break down in a gas station in front of a poor attendant – I’d put too much into everything to become a failure.
“I had to change my kit five times a day due to the humidity in the deep south, where temperatures reached over 40C.
“And in the colder states, I was wearing five layers of clothes to keep warm in -18C temperatures – even my beard froze.
“The enormity of it all, the repetition and loneliness have been mentally very tough.
“Fortunately though, I was only ever down for short periods, even if illness or injury persisted longer than that.
“As a generally very positive person, I had a strong focus – quitting was never going to be an option.”
Pausing his run at the Twin Arrows Trading Post, in Arizona, Rob has flown back to the U.K to be with his girlfriend of seven-years, Nadine, to witness the birth of his daughter – who he insists will not be named Jenny.
Due on the 27th March, Nadine, Rob and their first-born will be flying back to the US as a trio, aiming to see the final 200 miles through together.
Hoping to inspire others with the spirit of Forrest, Rob, who is still yet to hear from his hero, Tom Hanks, said: “I wanted to finish this journey as a family, so I’ve flown back to be with Nadine for our baby’s birth.
“So far I’ve surpassed the supposed number of miles Forrest achieved – 15,248, by about a hundred or so. By the end I’d have run nearly 15,600.
“I think the film – and specifically the character of Forrest – is a beautiful tale of life and how we should treat one another.
“Forrest didn’t judge anyone, not on the colour of their skin, background, intelligence or anything else.
“If everyone could be a bit more like Forrest, the world would be a better place.
“I’m running for WWF and Peace Direct, raising £20,000 for them so far, but I hope to continue fundraising until I reach a million.
“This is my attempt to make a difference, just as my mum would’ve wanted.
“I haven’t heard from Tom yet, but I have sent him a postcard of the Port Clyde Lighthouse, when I completed my second crossing.
“He’s an absolute hero of mine, so I’d love to hear from him.
“I’d love him to finish the final mile with me – wouldn’t that be something?”
To donate to Rob’s causes, please visit: http://www.goingthedistancerun.com/