In Becoming Forrest (Harper North, Feb.), English runner Pope recounts his 15,248-mile effort to recreate Forrest Gump’s trek across the U.S..
Besides being a fan of the movie, what inspired you to recreate Forrest’s run?
When Forrest ran across the Mississippi, he was asked if he was running for women’s rights, the homeless, world peace, the environment, or for animals. He just felt like running, and while I did too, I wanted to honor a promise to my late mom when she told me to do one thing in my life that made a difference. I did that through two charities that covered all five of those bases—namely, Peace Direct and the World Wildlife Fund. Whenever I felt like giving up, it was the knowledge that they will never give up on their goals that made me continue.
What was the most difficult part?
Without a doubt, the financial side of things. If I’d come into this a wealthy man, or if I’d had adequate sponsors, it would have been a lot easier, but then again maybe it wouldn’t have been as much of an adventure. And turning around after reaching an ocean was always a “can I actually do this again?” moment—maybe similar to what an Olympic athlete faces after the games, knowing there are four more years ahead of them.
What was your greatest mental challenge?
With the financial noose I wore a lot of the time and the almost ever-present threat or reality of injury, the stress was more of a death by 25 million cuts than huge trauma, but the three occasions where I thought I had game-ending injuries were huge black clouds. The first one, in Houston—only 500 miles in—was an acute exercise in realizing I was on a knife’s edge, which helped manage my expectations.
Was there anything you encountered running across the country five times that changed your perceptions about the U.S.?
The sheer scale of the kindness I received was a very humbling experience. This was coupled with a huge sense of community pulling together, often around me. This was exemplified when I encountered a stray dog in New Hope, Ariz. We subsequently named her Hope, to tempt some positive fate—and this was realized by people who helped us find Hope her current forever home, a long way away in Massachusetts. This wasn’t the picture the media seems to paint—of a country divided—and made me realize that while the U.S.A. has some huge problems, it has everything it needs to sort them out in the American people.