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.
Averaging an astounding 40 miles a day, Rob combated against ever-changing climates of blistering heat, traitorous rain, and relentless snowfall, raising nearly 37,000GBP (50,000USD) for his two chosen charities, World Wildlife Foundation and Peace Direct.
Travelling from east to west twice over and back again, Rob ran for a staggering 422 days, covering 15,607 miles in the process, before crossing the finish line on April 29th, where he proposed to his very own Jenny – long term girlfriend, Nadine – in an emotional exchange.
After traversing his way across 43 states on foot, the 39-year-old veterinarian admits he’s ready to return back to normality.
Rob said: “I’m unbelievably proud and still surprised to a degree that I actually made it.
“Sometimes the magnitude of it all hits me and I just stand there shaking my head, smiling.
“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.
“It meant everything to me to have Nadine and our newborn daughter, Bee, there at the finish line.
“Nadine has been my rock, I couldn’t have done it without her – proposing in that moment felt right.
“I can’t wait to show baby Bee all of the photos in a few years’ time.”
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.
Pausing his run briefly at the Twin Arrows Trading Post, in Arizona, to fly back to the UK to witness the birth of his daughter, Rob also found the time to run in the London Marathon, breaking a world record in the process.
He became the fastest ever runner to complete the 26.2 mile course in costume, with a time of two hours and 36 minutes.
Rob said: “Seeing my daughter be born was even more motivation – having her and Nadine at the finish was a dream come true.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“The London Marathon was an added bonus, despite being a hot day I just went for it and even got to meet two of my heroes, Mo Farah and Eliud Kipchoge – it was a great feeling.”
Hoping to inspire others with the spirit of Forrest, Rob, who is still yet to hear from his hero, Tom Hanks, said: “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.
“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.
“It hasn’t been hard to return back to my old life, I’m a bit weird like that.
“I’m a bit weird like that, but the beard is still there and the memories will last a lifetime.
“The charities were my main motivation behind this, so I’ll be disappointed if I don’t get over the 100,000 mark.
“In the words of Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris, don’t let all the running be in vain.”
To donate to Rob’s chosen charities, please visit: www.goingthedistancerun.com