Tony finishing the Battle of Chickamauga Marathon, Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia ~ November 2009

Not long into our conversation, Traverse City marathon runner Tony Anderson wants me to know his athletic abilities are nothing special. “I’m not fast. I’m just an average runner.”

But it’s too late for me to believe him. Already I know otherwise, that Tony is anything but “average” – and as for his speed? Sure, it can be interesting to know a runner’s stats, particularly if you’re cheering them on as they strive for a PR, but hearing their back story – why they lace up and where they log their miles – is much more intriguing. Which is why I consider Tony, who serves as general manager of Cherryland Electric Cooperative, a rather exceptional runner.

I’d heard about Tony and his many marathons – the 48-year-old father of three is on target to race five this year alone – and had the chance to sit down with him recently over a cup of coffee. I wanted to know more about his goal of running 26.2 miles in all 50 states over the next 10 to 12 years – a goal that’s about more than checking off something on a bucket list.

Like most of us, Tony got hooked on the healthy high that comes with incorporating running into your life. I nod my head when he talks about how running is confidence-building and stress-reducing. The sport also has helped him organize better, “because you have to plan for your runs,” he says. Isn’t that the truth. Whether alone or with a group of friends, hitting the trails around the Boardman Dam or heading out on the open road “is just what I do,” Tony tells me.

But there’s something more that Tony is committed to, a dedication to children that he’s integrated into his running since finishing his first marathon seven years ago. While Tony didn’t want or plan to ever run a marathon following the 2003 Bayshore – “I was done,” he says – he ultimately changed his mind. A Green Bay Packers fan, Tony couldn’t resist the opportunity to run across Lambeau Field during the Green Bay Marathon. He just kept going from there, planning his next marathon – and the next…and the next… – and all the while writing about his experience after completing each race.

An idea soon took hold: keep running marathons – one in each state – and along the way share his stories on a web site to raise funds for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Michigan. The project: Marathon4Kids, which to date has raised some $16,000 for an organization in which Tony long has been involved.

“It’s more than just running. It’s for kids,” he says of asking those who visit his site to donate $26.20, all of which goes toward Big Brothers Big Sisters. “Everyone knows a kid who doesn’t have a father or a mother … I can remember everything that was ever done for me.”

Another passion: spending time being a "Big Brother"

Tony speaks from the heart. I can see it in his kind eyes, when he shares his own story growing up in South Dakota without his father, who died in a car accident when he was young. Through his involvement with Big Brothers Big Sisters, he’s helping children who may be in a similar situation.

“Kids have two ways to go – the good way or the bad way … I was fortunate to have a few individuals in my life who helped me get on the right path,” he says. “It makes a difference.”

Tony just completed the Quad Cities Marathon, a race he ran with his two nieces, Becky and Theresa. The Moline, Ill. race marked Tony’s 15th state in which he’s ran 26.2. His son Zach, 24, also ran his first half-marathon at the event.

The marathon distance is Tony’s favorite: “I love the spot in the marathon when the half marathoners cut off and we keep going. I just like the longer distance.”

A few other marathon moments Tony shared:

Most scenic: Big Sur Marathon, 2010. “I took my camera. I never worried about my time,” he says.

Most memorable: New York City Marathon, 2005. “I felt like an American,” he says of starting on Staten Island and running with thousands of other runners through the city’s buroughs.

Two-in-one race weekend: In 2007, he finished the Kansas City, Mo. marathon on a Saturday and headed to Des Moines, Ia. the next day for another.

Future Boston runner: Tony “qualified” to run the Boston Marathon during a speech he gave to the Traverse City Track Club. The race director of the prestigious race happened to be there as well and heard his story…Tony is planning an April 2011 trip to Boston, so stay tuned…

Most challenging: Pike’s Peak in Manitou Springs,  Co., 2008. He finished it in 9:42.

You can learn much more about Tony, his races and his passion for kids at Marathon4Kids. When you donate $26.20 toward his cause, you have full access to his race writings. You can also stay up-to-date on future races and fundraising plans, including Tony’s hope to connect with runners interested in raising $300 on their own for Big Brothers Big Sisters. His goal for 2011: find 300 runners to take on this challenge.

I love this quote Tony shared with me, which is one of his favorites:

“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning but anyone can start today and make a new ending.” – Maria Robinson.

Tony, you’re most definitely helping create new endings every day, and you’re certainly inspiring so many others – myself included – to do the same.

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