Returning from the United States of America in July after ten months of running across the country, initially exhausted but inspired, Jim Plunkett-Cole is a man on a mission. Having taken his idea stateside, the Kilmersdon runner is now dedicating his life to encouraging children to become more active every single day.
Jim originally set up an online community for locals to join, logging and providing a support network for people taking part in anything from a mile to 10k of physical activity every single day, such as running, swimming, or cycling for a year in his Kx365 challenge, which continues to this day. He then upped his own personal challenge to a triathlon every single day for a year. In four and a half years, he has run an incredible 16,000 miles with no day of rest.
Setting off on his American JimGump adventure on 1st October last year, Jim planned to run as many miles as the fictional film character, Forrest Gump, continuing his ‘talk and run’ presentations that he had carried out in UK schools, but across America. He spent ten months in the country, beginning in Alabama, and running through Mississippi, New Orleans, Louisiana and Texas, where he visited his first US schools.
With savings from home, Jim began the first two months with a gigantic RV and a one-man support crew, and later without both, Jim found an app which, rather like Uber, helped to transport luggage from one place to another. This also helped him to identify and make contact with local schools.
Thanks to a friend of Jim’s from Bristol, Steve Hart, who had moved to Houston with his young family, he was invited to the British International School, a private school which has nine others across America and other schools across the world.
Such was the success of his talk there, that the school paid for him to go to Boston, Washington, Chicago, New York, Orlando and Charlotte, in North Carolina. His school visits totalled around thirty across America, reaching approximately 8,000 children; all of which, Jim hopes, have been inspired to be more active every day – and their families, too.
With his time in the USA running out, Jim secured the help of a Denver-based friend, John Brackney, who got in touch with a top Senator, Michael Bennett, who managed to extend Jim’s visa by six months, continuing his time in a country that was undergoing historic change. He said: “It was a fascinating time to be running across America with the presidential race in full swing. Everyone I met wanted to know what I thought – and what the outside world made of it all. Feelings ran high, and I really had to keep my opinions to myself!
“Running across America meant that I saw every single nook and cranny of life out there – a lot that tourists wouldn’t see or appreciate. For example, homelessness – it seemed out of control, there are people really suffering and living in appalling conditions. Something I really didn’t expect in the US.
“Because of the time difference, I’d be running through the UK’s night and listening to programmes on Radio 4 – it was a very odd feeling, listening to events at home unfold, again, politically, but also with the most recent terrorist attacks in Manchester and London. It was hard to hear, and felt like our country was in complete turmoil at times.
“There are many people I need to thank for their support at home, but most of all thank you to Sara Marshall, for all of the planning and preparation before the trip, and her continuous support whilst I was in the US.
“The school visits went incredibly well; better than I could have hoped. I even spoke at a school in Colorado for children with Autism and Asperger’s. It’s inspired me to do similar in future for sure.
“The highlight of the school visits was in Colorado, where the children had all made homemade ‘bib’ numbers and all 350 pupils came out and ran a lap each. The older children began first, and then formed a support network all the way around the field, applauding and high-fiving the younger ones as they completed their lap. It was utterly amazing to watch.
“At that point, I had a revelation. To set up Kidsx365, a pilot initiative at the school, which saw a letter sent to parents explaining what they could do to join. Every day for a year, they choose an activity to take part in and choose their bib, or race number, which is a unique identifier. It’s set up so that the whole family can take part and since 1st May, the school has 100 families taking part, with 130 parents, 150 children, twelve grandparents and twenty dogs!
“The plan is to roll the idea out across the world, visiting obesity conferences and looking at the way in which exercise can help mental health, too. The challenge itself will be free, but I’ll be looking for ways to bring in income, such as company sponsorship, printing t-shirts and anything else that can help expand the initiative. I’ll also be running to run and tri clubs across the South West to spread the word and help boost support for the idea.”
As part of the initiative, the children will have a unique log and blog book, which Jim hopes will encourage literacy and creativity – with Alfredo cards, in tribute to his late and beloved collie dog, who ran with Jim during the first few years of his challenge. His stories to children often tell tales of his runs out in the local countryside and feature not just Alfredo, but herons, a stag, and thanks to his US trip – now alligators, wild pigs, otters and mosquitoes! Everything that comes from being outside and active.
Helping him launch Kidsx365 is Claire Blewitt, from Paulton, and her children, Oscar and Gertie, who are now in their second year of being active every single day, alongside their mum, who is in her third year. She says: “It gives us quality time together, as a family, and despite having a busy life, we have managed to fit in at least a mile of activity, every single day for a year. It means down time for us, away from screens and work – and whilst the children joined in with me during my first year, I was amazed that they stuck with it and are carrying on again in 2017. Gertie has even set up a little lunchtime running club at school for her friends!”
Jim’s incredible experience will remain with him for a long time to come as he prepares to return to the US one day. It opened up a whole world of opportunities for him, not just through the challenge, but personally, too. He adds: “I can’t change the world on my own, I know that. But with the help of Oscar and Gertie (and the other children and families who join in the Kx365 challenge), well together, we will get the world more active.”
To read more about Jim’s story, visit: www.jimgump.com or follow via Facebook.