Joe Henry is a University of Alabama at Birmingham alumnus and employee with a heart for helping others. Beginning Feb. 9, he’ll use his feet and legs to prove it.
Henry, a weight-room manager at the UAB Campus Recreation Center, will run 500 miles to the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, from Washington, D.C., to raise awareness for Universities Fighting World Hunger and to raise $100,000 for the United Nations World Food Programme.
Henry will begin his Hunger 500 journey in front of the White House. Seventeen days, 500 miles and numerous university visits later, he will end his run at the University of Guelph where he will attend the sixth annual Universities Fighting World Hunger (UFWH) Summit.
“I’m really just doing this to raise awareness for hunger, specifically the UFWH,” Henry says. “I went to the UFWH conference in Auburn, Ala., this past year and saw ordinary people going above and beyond to make a difference and do what they could to help less fortunate people. It inspired me to do something. I decided to do this.”
The UAB School of Public Health, from which Henry earned a master’s degree, is sponsoring his journey along with Nestlé Canada and the University of Guelph. Henry has raised more than $10,000 in addition to the sponsorships he’s received for equipment and food. You can donate, sponsor and follow him on his run at www.hunger500.org/.
The UFWH is an international initiative started in 2004 as a partnership between the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and Auburn University. Since that time, the coalition has expanded to include more than 150 universities in the fight against hunger and malnutrition worldwide. UAB’s student chapter of the UFWH was founded in 2010.
When Henry told members of the World Food Programme his intentions to raise money for the organization — and how he planned to do it — he was met with excitement and a question he has been asked again and again by many: Are you crazy?
“It’s amazing how much I get asked that question,” he says. “I probably have to be a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic to sign up for this kind of mileage. But I love running, and we’re doing this to raise as much money as we can to give to — in my opinion — the best aid organization on the planet.”
Henry, a Sonoma County, Calif. native, discovered the UFWH through his studies in The Sparkman Center for Global Health. He applied for a scholarship to the UFWH conference in Auburn this past year and was accepted.
Henry heard stories of the things people did to raise the profile of the UFWH and raise money for the WFP at the summit. He was especially impressed with one gentleman who had run three marathons in three consecutive days — a total 78.6 miles.
“As a runner, I thought maybe there was an avenue for me to do something like that,” Henry says. “I’ve always been interested in doing long-distance, point-to-point runs.
“When they announced this year’s conference was at the University of Guelph in Ontario, it seemed logical to run from Washington, D.C., which is the center for many international aid organizations and policies that affect those organizations,” he says.
Henry has run as much as 50 miles in one day. For the Hunger 500, he will run 30 to 32 miles per day as he crosses the states of Maryland and Pennsylvania before cutting through the western tip of New York state into Canada. He will stop at several colleges and universities along the way, including Georgetown, Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford. Henry will meet with students to raise funds for the initiative and to encourage them to consider founding their own UFWH chapter. He also hopes to pick up some more runners to travel a few miles with him.
Henry has been training for months for the rigorous grind his winter run no doubt will bring in the chilly northeast. He has been working out with a personal trainer extensively, combining a workout regimen of weight-lifting and plyometrics to strengthen muscles he typically might not use when he runs.
Henry also has picked up his running considerably, stringing together several days of 20-plus mile runs in a row.
“Your body is going to start to do some stuff it doesn’t normally do when you run 32 miles a day,” Henry says. “If I only trained by running in a straight line every day I would be setting myself up to fail. If something is going to get hurt, I need to be really well rounded to complete this. I’ve been running a lot, but I’ve also been weight training and performing just about any other physical activity I can do.”
He’s also had to change his diet. Previously a vegetarian, Henry has been eating lean protein along with his usual assortment of fruits and vegetables.
Henry will be accompanied for the duration of the trip by his father Rick, a registered nurse, and second-year public health graduate student Leslie Loyd. Henry and Loyd traveled to Haiti a month after the devastating earthquake this past year to aid in the relief effort.
Henry says he’s not nervous about his upcoming trek. In fact, he’s anxious to get past all of the logistics for the trip and do what he loves to do.
“I’m excited for the miles to be my biggest concern,” Henry says. “I’m excited for the run to start and my world to be running 32 miles that day.”