- Associated Press - Sunday, March 19, 2017

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (AP) - The Spa City recently served as one of the destinations in a man’s recreation of the famous run featured in the modern film classic “Forrest Gump.”

Rob Pope, a veterinarian from Liverpool, England, was ushered into town by members of the Spa Pacers, who ran with him from the Airport Road bridge over Lake Hamilton to The Greater Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce building at Ouachita and Grand last week, the Sentinel-Record (https://bit.ly/2nsx3Rv ) reported. The run was part of Pope’s larger effort to run the same route that Gump did in the film, which spans the United States.

The arrangement of the meeting at the chamber came after Hot Springs resident Dave Hair met Pope and his girlfriend, Nadine, in an RV park just outside of Lubbock, Texas. Hair said that he noticed Pope due to his appearance - which, like Gump, includes a bushy beard and a red hat - and began to ask him about his efforts.

“He told us what they were doing, and it was very interesting,” Hair said. “I said, ‘Well, where are you going to run to?’ He told us, ‘Highway 70.’ I said, ‘Well, Hot Springs is on Highway 70.’ He said, ‘Well, gonna be there in two weeks.’”

After meeting at the chamber, the Spa Pacers ran with Pope to the RV park that he would be camping in for the night, located just outside of Hot Springs. The club then treated Pope to dinner at Copper Penny Pub.

Pope has long held a desire to run across the United States because of the country’s culture - its music scene, in particular. He also expressed a love for the film.

“I wanted to run across America for ages,” Pope said.

Pope’s run began Sept. 15 in Mobile, Alabama, - the site of the run’s beginning in the film. From there, he made his way west to Santa Monica, California, and has now doubled back to the South on his way up to Maine. His destinations immediately after Hot Springs included Little Rock and Memphis.

Hair said that Pope created the route by watching the movie.

“You don’t look at it and go, ‘Well, that’s doable,’” Pope said. “But you start to think, ‘God, is it doable?’”

Pope’s girlfriend has accompanied him throughout his run. She drives the RV that he spends his nights in, cooks for him, keeps him clean and, according to Pope, is his “rock.”

After March 22, Pope’s girlfriend will part from the run. He will then be accommodated with a buggy and tent from Nashville up until the end of his run in Maine.

According to Pope, the run’s biggest challenge is the mental hurdle of running as many miles as he does each day.

“The hardest bit is when you’re just in your natural bad bit of a day, and you think, ‘Oh, it’s so far to go,’” Pope said. “First thing in the morning, you just think, ‘I can’t run 42 miles. That’s just stupid.’”

To counter this challenge, Pope sets goals for himself to reach - one of them being food. He said that he has been consuming an average of 6,000 calories a day and looks forward to eating lunch.

“People say, ‘Oh, you come to America, and the fast food’s amazing, but you just can’t eat it all, because you’ll put on a severe, massive amount of weight.’ I can eat it all,” Pope said.

Pope explained that he is not simply running for the sake of pop culture nostalgia - he is also doing it to raise money for charity. Through his run, Pope has raised money for World Wildlife Fund, which does wilderness preservation, and Peace Direct, which supports individuals negatively impacted by wars.

The inspiration to support these specific organizations came from the film, as well.

“When Forrest is running across the Mississippi for the fourth time, they’re saying, ‘You’re running for women’s rights, the homeless, world peace, the environment and the animals,’” Pope said.

As for the run itself, Pope said that the first part has been successfully funded by donations. He said that he hopes for a business to sponsor him in the near future.

“We’re hoping for a company to come in and say, ‘We will sponsor you,’ because if this isn’t the best advertising vehicle ever, I don’t know,” Pope said.

The Spa Pacers were pleased to assist Pope in his endeavors. Jamie Merriman said that such support was a good way to “welcome and encourage” the running culture in Hot Springs.

Merriman described Pope as an “amazing runner.”

“We were moving along, and we ran on the grass. He was going pretty quickly, just talking the whole way,” Merriman said.

Charlie Moore, longtime member of Spa Pacers and promoter of Hot Springs, said that he is happy to have had the chance to promote Pope’s story.

“It’s a unique story, and some people aren’t going to appreciate that as much as others,” Moore said. “Running from the west coast to Maine is quite a feat.”


Information from: The Sentinel-Record, https://www.hotsr.com

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