Journeyman

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Ryan Priest helps fight cancer through Miles2Give.

Northern Arizona University student Ryan Priest has been all over the world - from Alabama to Australia, from Guam to Guatemala, from Flagstaff to Taiwan. His current journey, however, is unlike any other he has taken – crossing the country as a runner and tour director for Miles2Give, an initiative aimed at fighting sarcoma cancer.   

Sarcoma is a rare form of cancer that affects 12,000 Americans a year – most of them children, but victims can be of all ages. Priest explains how his close friend, marathon runner Landon Cooper, lost someone to Sarcoma, and dedicated himself to raising awareness and support for sarcoma research by creating Miles2Give and running from San Francisco, California to Ocean City, Maryland. When Priest learned of Cooper’s own personal journey to form Miles2Give, he knew he wanted to play a part in it.

“One of Landon’s best friends died of sarcoma cancer,” Priest explained. “He decided to run in her memory. There was one night, in Hollywood, when he decided to stop climbing the corporate ladder – that Hollywood life – and devote all of his energy to helping others and motivating others, which was so inspiring to me.”

As tour director, Priest handles the scheduling of the trip, and interfaces daily with organizations, media, and others on the tour.

"Nearly every hour, I am in constant contact with our PR Director, Courtney Skivington-Wolf, who is based out of New York,” Priest says. “She goes above and beyond in her dedication to spreading the word of the Miles2Give cause. I am also in constant contact with our sponsors, who are an integral part of making our cross-country dream possible."

Recently, Priest has taken on a new role within the organization beyond directly tours - he runs about eight miles a day along with Cooper and another team member, John McKay, to reduce the burden on Cooper’s body and to increase their average to 24 miles per day. Priest says the group has another plan to add miles to their journey.

“We have also invited the public to join us on our daily runs and have gotten an overwhelming number of requests from people in the nearby cities that we are approaching to join us and contribute miles,” Priest says.

The journey is not an easy one. Priest developed and scheduled a process that involves running in shifts. Seven days a week, the three start early in the morning, taking very short breaks every few miles to feed the current runner a mixture of nourishing, energy-packed foods, and run until the sun sets. 

“Patients with cancer cannot take a day off,” Priest says. “They cannot take a break or escape it. So, even if his body is breaking, Landon keeps running, and we keep going. He had food poisoning two nights ago, and he got up and kept running on that highway.”

The miles ahead

With Nevada at their back, they prepare for the next stretch that will take them across central Utah. Along the way, Priest says, people have stopped to share their support and stories.

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“They basically came and knocked on our door,” Priest says. “They said there weren’t enough words to thank us for what we were doing. We heard a father’s story: his daughter had been sent to Houston for weeks of chemotherapy. They won the battle: their daughter survived and now lives in Texas.” 

Miles2Give hopes to raise at least $100,000 to be given as a grant to scientists researching a cure for sarcoma cancer. But there are also smaller, equally important goals: each morning, the group calls a sarcoma patient to let them know that they are not alone; they run for a different person, living or passed away. Priest says dealing with cancer takes both a physical and mental toll, and that the team hopes to let those suffering know that someone is in their corner.

Moving forward

The Miles2Give caravan is scheduled to reach Ocean City by August, but their journey, Priest says, does not stop there. In recognition that cancer is a worldwide problem, the organization wants to travel to different countries all over the world and do similar runs. They also plan to make a documentary about the experience of being on the road.

It may take a while for Priest to find his way back to Northern Arizona University, but he does plan on returning and finishing his degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management. He was able to stop by Flagstaff recently to visit the campus and friends, and says the support he received during this break, including words of encouragement from both his peers and professors, motivated him even further to continue along this path and make a difference.

Priest explains that he is carving his own unique plan for life, and advises that all students do the same.