Medical Mysteries

In for the long haul'
Written by Chris Gerbasi

Shane Johnson is running everywhere to help homeless people.

Story: Chris Gerbasi Photo: Hike Across America

Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. That’s the motivational message a former Marine has for homeless veterans and teenagers. Shane Johnson, who was homeless for two years, now runs three companies near Orlando. And he pulls himself up by the laces of his running shoes, completing incredible endurance runs in a campaign to raise awareness about the difficulties veterans face when they transition from active duty to civilian life.

Last year, Shane ran 22 miles a day for 65 straight days during a “Hike Across America” from Orlando to California. Those numbers carry a heavy meaning: 22 represents the estimated number of veterans’ suicides each day, or one every 65 minutes, he says. Along the way, he stopped at 20 homeless shelters, distributed 10,000 hygiene kits, and competed in marathons.

“It’s about leading by example and showing that a normal person can make a difference,” Shane says of his commitment.

The cause is close to his heart. After serving in the Marines, Shane opened a mortgage company. Then the economy tanked and he lost everything, including his home. But he leaned on his military discipline to regroup, educate himself, and redevelop his business. He tells homeless veterans the military has given them the experience they need to rise above their situations.

“It’s a tough love approach,” Shane says. “Do you give a man a fish and feed him for a day or teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime? I use the ‘teach a man to fish’ method.”

This summer, he’s teamed up with the Pink Bow Foundation to aid homeless teens. Shane again is running 22 miles a day for 65 days, this time in Clermont and surrounding communities. Businesses are sponsoring hygiene boxes, and each day Shane runs to a business or shelter to distribute boxes. The motivational speaker also talks to teens who love his ideas about job creation, entrepreneurship, and “getting on the grid,” he says.

Shane is seeking sponsors for another Hike Across America—shortly after his Central Florida trek—in partnership with Clean the World, a global health organization that provides hygiene kits. He looks forward to veterans’ “amazing” response to his “tough love” talks.

“I tell them to take all their excuses back to boot camp and tell their drill instructor,” Shane says. “Their drill instructor would say, ‘I don’t want to hear your excuses.’”

About the author'

Chris Gerbasi

Chris Gerbasi has been a journalist for more than 30 years, writing and copy editing for newspapers and magazines throughout Michigan and Florida, and covering everything from city hall to spring training.

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