''What I Learned by Running Around the World''

Polio is a disease that most of us never think much about anymore. Thanks to heroic breakthroughs of the mid 20th century, the disease is more ancient history than current news. 

But polio is on Joe Hale’s mind every single day. While Joe’s mother was pregnant with him, she contracted polio and was paralyzed from the neck down. As he says, “her first visitor was a representative from the March of Dimes.” The group provided support, paid for rehabilitation, and helped her regain use of her upper body. This memory drives Joe every day. 

And recently, it drove him to raise money and awareness for the March of Dimes in a very unique, dedicated way—by running (get ready for this…) 7 marathons in 7 months on 7 continents! He called it the 7in7on7. Traveling the world and running has helped him spread the word about the March of Dimes and their mission of promoting healthy pregnancies. 

He just finished this monstrous undertaking, returning home with 8 marathons under his belt and more than $150,000 in donations for the March of Dimes. He also returned a little wiser than when he started. Below are some of the lessons he learned during his journey of love. If we all take these lessons to heart, we can improve our lives, reach our goals, and enrich the lives of everyone around us. Just like Joe. 

More heroic breakthroughs may be just over the horizon for you... 

Top 10 Things I Learned During 7in7on7! 
-By Joe Hale

The older I get, the more I realize that the important things in life are the same things my parents told me were important when I was growing up. I just didn’t believe it at the time. Running seven marathons in seven months on seven continents allowed me the opportunity to experience the truth of those early lessons in amazingly vivid and profound ways. With heartfelt thanks to my mother and father for their wisdom and patience, here are the top ten things I re-learned during “7in7on7.”
  1. Make up your own mind (or at least get a second opinion).
    I celebrated fellow-runner George from California’s 79th birthday with him in Beijing at the Great Wall Marathon. Twenty-five years ago, George’s doctor told him to stop running. George found another doctor. As he put it, “If I’d listened to the first guy, I would have missed out on the best 25 years of my life.”
  2. It’s better to give than receive (and a lot more fun).
    There was no more poignant moment than when the American runners noticed the deplorable condition of the Tanzanian runners and began taking off their own running shoes to offer them to the Africans.
  3. Eat right and get plenty of exercise. (Yeah, I know, but its true!)
    I met a lot of runners who used to be overweight and out of shape. Most said they weren’t unhappy that way, but all of them said they’re much happier now. I’m going to write a new diet book for Americans and it’ll contain four words: eat less, exercise more. Is there a correlation between the fact that there are 16 million bicycles in Holland and 16 million people and you don’t notice many overweight people? Is there a correlation between the fact that we have shuttles that pick us up at amusement parks in the US to take us to the front gate where we’re met with funnel cake and corn dog stands? I think so.
  4. Always keep a hand for the ship. (Whatever you do, be careful!)
    Learned this one on the way to Antarctica on the Russian icebreaker Ioffee. The Captain said, “If you fall overboard, swim for the bottom. Drowning hurts less than freezing to death, and you’re going to do one or other if you go in the water.”
5. Listen to what other people have to say (you just might learn something new).
I met people from every walk of life from nearly every country in the world. Each one I spoke with had a fascinating story to tell. If you give a person the gift of your time and attention, the result is a blessing for both of you. Like Ruth from Alabama—65 years old in 1995 and never been out of the state. She decided she’d raised her kids and now it was time for her self. She banked a year’s worth of vacation and on January 1, 2000 got on a bike and rode it around the world, visiting 47 countries. She now runs marathons at 74 and kicked my butt in Antarctica.

6. Keep busy. (You only retire from the job—not from life.)
If you stop giving, you stop receiving; it’s as simple as that. The “retirees” I met have lives that are fuller and more rewarding than when they worked. Community service, they said, is the reason why. As one man told me, “Retirement is like marriage; it’s not the end of something—it’s the beginning.” Retirement in the traditional sense is a pretty selfish act.

7. One person can always make a difference. (Be a good ambassador, wherever you are.)
It is possible to change the world (and change the perception of America abroad) by performing one small humble act of kindness. I saw it happen a hundred times. One was the occasion I mentioned above, when we gave our running shoes to our (much faster) African counterparts. America made some friends that day.

8. There’s no place like home (and your family is your home).
My friends know about my Blackberry addiction. (Linda: “Only Joey emails from Mt. Kilimanjaro.”) I felt at home when I shared my experiences with my wife and children, even though I was 5,000 miles away. Even better was when my son, Grant, joined me to run the Australian Marathon. He also reminded me that the best present a parent can give a child is a look of pride after a job well done.

9. God exists.
All the pain, suffering, and unhappiness around the world can occasionally make you question His existence. But there is so much natural beauty, joy, and kindness out there too, that you can’t deny there’s a divine agent behind it all somewhere. There is a harmony and balance that isn’t accidental. It’s His work and ours, and we have much left to do.

10. You DON’T always need to use sunscreen (even in Africa in the summer).
OK, our parents were wrong on this one. In freezing rain at 19,500 feet on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, sunscreen is totally unnecessary. Warm milk, however, would have been nice—just like Mom said.

To learn more about Joe Hale’s 7in7on7, visit www.RunJoeHaleRun.com.  To learn how the March of Dimes helps prevent birth defects and infant mortality, visit www.MarchOfDimes.com.