Childhood disease and orphanhood can be a daunting problem for those looking to make a difference. For one Cal Poly graduate, the solution was simple – run like the wind.
Tim Borland, a former Cal Poly triathlon runner and kinesiology alumnus with a gift for extreme physical endurance and selfless spirit, has touched the lives of thousands of children and families worldwide.
Last year, he set out to help fight a rare genetic disease affecting children called ataxia telangiectasia (A-T), which combines symptoms of cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, cystic fibrosis and cancer.
How did he do it?
By embarking on something previously thought impossible – running 63 marathons (a total of 1,650 miles) in 63 consecutive days.
He started Sept. 3, 2007 in Anaheim and finished Nov. 4 in New York City.
“I loved to run and felt like it was a gift,” Borland says. “I knew I could use it for something bigger than myself, to help other people.”
Borland, who only started running at age 22, had steadily increased his endurance to an unnatural level.
Eventually, he could run for great lengths of time without his heart rate exceeding 130, and still have breath to talk on the phone. Despite running 15 to 20 miles a day during the week, Borland was still improving his weekend race times.
“I said to myself, ‘This is ridiculous – how can I channel this ability?’ ” Borland recalls. “That’s when I felt like God was saying, ‘I’ve shown that you can do it, now trust me and use it,’ and I said, ‘OK.’ ”
Unsure of where to focus his talents, Borland found inspiration in Catherine Achilles, a friend’s daughter in a wheelchair, suffering from A-T. Like all children who suffer from the disease, her mind was vibrantly intact yet trapped within a deteriorating body (most children with A-T are forced to wheelchairs by age 10, and do not survive past their teens).
After meeting Achilles, Borland had found his life’s calling – to help find a cure for A-T by running a successive number of fundraising marathons thought to be physically impossible.
“When Tim told us his plan, we thought he was crazy,” says his father and Cal Poly professor emeritus Jim Borland. “We were certainly supportive, but at the same time, we thought, ‘This is nuts.’ ”
Undeterred by skepticism, Borland met with doctors at Stanford and underwent careful testing to ensure his body could handle the stress of such a massive undertaking.
When doctors told him that, at least on paper, it seemed possible his body would endure, there was no going back.
“I feel God gave me a burning passion and desire to help children in need,” Borland says. “I believe he has a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves, and I’m trying to fulfill that.”
Borland’s record-breaking Cure Tour stretched nationwide through 63 towns and cities, raising roughly $750,000.
Throughout, Borland ran pushing a stroller, which often seated a child affected by A-T, or was left empty to symbolize children that had been taken by the disease.
“Tim is truly an incredible person,” says Jennifer Thornton, executive director of the A-T Children’s Project, which benefited from the tour. “His heart and passion toward helping others are so genuine. Working with him is an amazing experience.”
Not without ups and downs, Borland persevered against all odds and finished his final marathon in New York City, proving doable what many thought was not.
“It’s just something I set out to do,” Borland says. “I told myself, ‘It’s just a marathon today,’ and took it one step at a time, one day at a time.”
Borland wasn’t alone in his quest. His wife and children traveled with him in their RV, as did Borland’s friend and fellow Cal Poly grad Mike Durant, who rode his bike alongside Borland every step of the way with supplies in tow, providing essential foods and liquids at a moment’s notice.
“The magnitude of what Tim was doing didn’t register until about a week into it,” Durant says. “When I saw him finish his last marathon without hurting himself, it was a huge relief.”
Aside from a few stomach problems and soreness, Borland finished the entire tour without a single minor injury – miraculous considering the smallest blister or chafe early on could have prevented him from continuing.
Although the Cure Tour set a world record for most consecutively completed marathons, Borland maintains the event was entirely about calling attention to A-T and not himself. Thus, the decision was made not to include Borland’s record in the Guinness Book.
“I’m not doing this for any personal gain,” he says. “If you’re helping with a cause, it’s got to be all about that.”
However, Borland’s not opposed to raising the bar on future endeavors. This year, he expanded his efforts to include childhood orphans, and is planning to organize another tour similar to the Cure Tour for their benefit.
For Borland and his wife, helping children around the world is their “sweet spot” in life, and it’s a job without limits.
“There are 143,000 orphans around the world, and another one every 18 seconds, so I might be doing this for a while,” Borland says.
At what point do the inspired become inspirational? Some time down the road, Borland wants to use his experiences and lessons to encourage others to make a difference as well.
For now, the vigorous runner wants nothing more than to exercise the gifts given to him, while drawing inspiration from the people he has dedicated his life to helping.
“When a child in a wheelchair says how proud and thankful they are and they’re rooting for you, it’s a very powerful thing,” Borland says. “When you get accolades like that from a child facing a terminal illness, it keeps you going.”