By Mckenzie Moore
Even in the heat of summer and with the low air quality due to smoke from nearby wildfires, Russell Larkins of North Carolina could be seen running along the road in the North Fork Valley, carrying with him an American flag. He ran here from the East Coast and will be continuing on to California.
The purpose of “Run Russell Run,” organized by Veterans for Good, is to raise awareness and funds for veteran suicide. One of the primary goals is to “motivate veterans to be active to reduce stress and raise funds for combat veterans that are struggling financially.”
Larkins’ all-white Siberian Husky, Storm, is also running alongside him with a cause of her own: to raise funds for service dogs for veterans. According to Larkins, her involvement in the message even brought them attention from Fox News.
In addition to running for veterans to acknowledge their lives and service, Larkins hopes to encourage them to use outdoor recreation as a way to help ease PTSD and depression. Even for other local residents, he hopes his run will encourage people to support veterans and lead healthy lifestyles to reduce risk factors for serious health issues.
“I want to inspire and motivate just anybody that sees me, really, for multiple reasons,” Larkins said. “I run for those veterans that do commit suicide because their lives still need to be acknowledged. That’s because 20 veterans commit suicide every day. ...I think people seeing a crazy person run down the highway with an American flag, it’s kind of inspiring and I think it’s important to share that message right now.”
As he runs, Larkins carries with him a backpack of supplies that weighs anywhere from 28 to 32 pounds, depending on his water consumption. In the 100-degree heat through Delta County, he still carried the American flag.
“I carry the full size American flag with me, and I carry the flag because it stands for freedom and equality for all people,” Larkins said. “I try to make sure that the young people I run into know that.”
Upon passing through the North Fork Valley, Larkins stayed at the Hotchkiss Inn as well as camping in various locations, where he saw generosity from the community that wanted to support him in his run.
“I think overall, anywhere he goes he’s going to raise awareness to what some of these combat veterans go through,” said Hotchkiss Inn Marketing Director Christopher Theulen. “What he’s doing is he’s just letting these veterans know that people care.”
Like many other local residents, the employees and owners of the Hotchkiss Inn gave Larkins a discounted rate and provided him with dinner, a gesture Larkins acknowledged on his social media. Theulen said that because he has multiple Marines in his family, he appreciated Larkins’ efforts.
“Just showing that we support veterans out here, we cooked him up a steak dinner and just let him know that we care and appreciate what he’s doing, that it’s not going unseen,” Theulen said.
But the generosity of the community didn’t stop there: Larkins said as he ran, he interacted with multiple people who gave him support and made donations. Multiple local residents also posted their appreciation of his cause on local social media message boards.
While stopped at the Cory store to restock on supplies, Larkins was approached by residents who wanted to help his cause and learn more about his message, including fellow veterans who even invited him into their backyards.
“I got a lot of love coming down from Cory, everybody was honking, somebody made a Facebook post,” Larkins said. “Pretty much everybody knew who I was when I got to Delta, so that was pretty cool.”
After spending time in Delta, Larkins continued his run to Grand Junction to continue west to California. According to his social media, he’s considering running all the way back to the East Coast after reaching his goal.
More information on the run and the cause can be found at veteransforgood.org, and updates on Storm’s concurrent run can be found @runstormyrun on Instagram.