World distance runner, Stan Cottrell, founder of the “Friendship Run” concept, is still running at age 70, intent on providing tangible help and hope for orphans while engaging in ultimate “sports diplomacy.” A goodwill ambassador, he calls the effects “breaking down walls that divide one human heart from another.” If last June’s runs in Ethiopia are any indication, where tens of thousands of Ethiopians participated in some fashion, then the motivating and unifying power of his worldwide runs has only grown stronger.
A Friendship Run is a proven, multi-faceted “event” for which this warm-hearted, energetic motivational speaker, life-long runner and international businessman with multi-cultural awareness is uniquely qualified. It is not a race, but an outreach to people from palaces to poverty-ridden huts, highways to byways. Cottrell has been lauded by Presidents and Kings, with Congressional Citations, television appearances and more in recognition of his unusual skill set, physical conditioning and accomplishments.
Over the past four decades, Cottrell says he has had “over 38 beta tests” proving the soundness of the concept. His runs in 38+ different countries demonstrated the hope, encouragement and understanding fostered by his run events, as well as the sports marketing value to sponsors, and high-impact opportunities for charity co-ventures.
In all, he has run over 200,000 miles since 1955, the equivalent of eight times around the world. In the early days, he was the first Southerner to run in the Boston Marathon. He ran ultra-distances in the South benefiting health charities at a time when no one knew what a long distance “adventure run” was, far beyond the scope of a marathon.
He went on in 1980 to break the prior Guinness Trans-USA Record by 5 days when he ran New York to San Francisco in just 48 days, averaging 66 miles each day, day after day. Although later that year this meticulously documented run time was barely beaten West-to-East, his difficult East-West record held for about 30 years.
Crossing the political divide, Cottrell broke down many walls of fear and misunderstanding along the way, such as his “preNormalization” 496-mile Friendship Run from Hanoi to DaNang in 1988. Running through rice patties and mountains of Vietnam under close scrutiny, Cottrell reports seeing evidence of bombing everywhere, even as visions of his own dead buddies played in his head. Then as he seeks to do in each country, he spent real time among these generous people who had suffered much, and this “former enemy” was ultimately greeted with throngs throwing flowers of welcome. Many reported feeling the warm heart of common humanity, with a new understanding of mutual caring and forgiveness. He was even welcomed by the Minister of Justice / Peace Negotiator, with whom the U.S. President had been unable to meet.
Such is the door-opener of sports combined with a humble, receptive heart and perseverance. It had been the same in Stan Cottrell’s 53-day feat covering 2,125 miles from the Great Wall of China to Guangzhou in 1984. Photos show him passing through the Forbidden City surrounded by curious throngs, the first foreigner many had ever seen. Running an average 40 miles per day over sometimes treacherous terrain, Cottrell traversed the last 1000 miles in severe pain, taped tightly with 2 broken vertebrae. Too many eyes were upon him, and the strong Chinese ethic of “honor” required it.
Result? Mao’s daughter, high-level Chinese businessmen and political leaders honored him. So did the common man. He was one of them, as when he helped an exhausted peasant plow behind a water buffalo before continuing his run. Cottrell asserts: “It’s just like plowing at home in Kentucky.”
Films of his runs show not only the pain and iron will he demonstrated to keep going, but also the people and unifying results. Favorites include the full feature documentaries “China Run” and “Destination DaNang,” plus motivational “China Passage.” “Fire and Jade” depicts the “ying and yang” of internal struggle on the open road, while the Bulgarian and Crimean run films have not been released.
Cottrell made Friendship Runs in Korea twice, plus Cambodia, Bulgaria, Crimea, Malaysia, Cuba, throughout the Caribbean, Africa, Europe. “But it’s all been just a preparation. I haven’t run my best run yet,” he asserts.
“The multi-year Great Global Friendship Run we are planning has many moving parts and goals to help the world’s orphans and street children,” he continues. “Related to its charitable and international friendship purposes, I recently accepted an Ethiopia invitation to run next month (April) in support of the bio-farming, green building, and initiatives to help women, orphans, youth, farmers and communities through ‘Peace and Green Initiative for Africa’ (PGIA). I am here to serve. I’ve been in training, and I’m past ready to get running again. ”
For more information on Stan Cottrell and Friendship Runs, see FriendshipSports.org.