‘Quit when you’re done’: St. Jude mission drives epic Charlotte to Nashville duathlon

Determined to finish a run in Nashville this spring, a St. Jude Hero draws inspiration from his daughter’s close friend and the memory of doctor who helped heal him.

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  •  4 min

Zach Sang

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Joshua Miller's Instagram handle hints at the magnitude of his challenge: @RunningMan410, signifying the 410 miles from Charlotte to Nashville that he has been running or biking since May 29.  

With his wife, Miranda, rolling slowly behind in the official #QueenCity-to-MusicCity truck, the slow but steady progress has carried Joshua through mountains, over lakes and rivers, and finally into middle Tennessee. He is almost halfway to an even more important goal: raising $83,000 for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

Josh Miller

Just as he puts one (fractured) foot in front of the other, he’s counting on the steady accumulation of likes, shares and $5 "attaboys" to eventually reach that fundraising figure, which is symbolic of a health crisis early in Joshua’s life.

“Big donations are great,” Joshua said, “but I’d rather have $1 from 83,000 people because that means we brought more attention and got more people involved in this amazing cause.”

If the ‘what’ of this altruistic Appalachian trail is exhausting to even contemplate, the ‘why’ captures how one family’s inspiring commitment connects them to a cause larger than themselves.

As Joshua wrote after the Day 14 scorcher put him past the halfway point: “Running in this weather was hard but nowhere near as hard as it is for kids to have to fight cancer, or for their families to have to figure out how to save them.”

For his daughters – Bella, 13, and Lilly, 11 – who are along for the trip in Miranda’s parents' RV, there’s a more targeted takeaway. Think of Zoe, he tells them, when the dearth of wi-fi or a missed (virtual) school moment proves frustrating.

Zoe, one of Lilly’s best friends, has already had two battles with leukemia. Hers is one of the St. Jude patient names painted onto the windows of the pace truck.

“I’ve always felt blessed. We have two daughters and never had to deal with anything other than stitches here and there," Joshua said. "To know someone like Lilly’s friend, who has had two battles with leukemia, that’s motivating.”

The running and fundraising for St. Jude long predates even that friendship. It was 2005 when his first marathon in Nashville benefited St. Jude, and he’s finished several there since – often crossing the finish carrying Bella and Lilly (now they run alongside him).

Josh Miller

His spring 2020 fundraiser for St. Jude was supposed to be the St. Jude Rock 'n' Roll Marathon in late April. When it was rescheduled for November because of COVID-19, Joshua decided to take matters into his own hands (or feet).

On the Saturday he would have been running through Nashville, Joshua instead got Miranda to drop him off early in the morning at the top of Charlotte, on Tryon Road, and he proceeded to run 26 miles down into South Carolina – finishing with laps around an empty shopping center to get in the last two tenths.

Quarantined and with business slow, Joshua decided he wanted to finish a long fundraising run in Nashville after all. Instead of one marathon, he would endure more than two weeks of consecutive marathon-plus days, covering all 410 miles from Charlotte’s Olde Mecklenberg Brewery on May 31 to Nashville’s Cumberland River on June 14.

“Never again in my life, with things slow because of COVID, could I devote my time to helping other people like I can now,” Joshua said. “I thought I could make up for a lot of St. Jude Heroes who would have been out there running and fundraising but couldn’t.”

When a pop in his foot on Day 3 turned out to be a small bone fracture, a podiatrist prescribed a cortisone shot for the pain – and rest. 

Which to Joshua meant cutting back to 5-10 miles of running per day, and doing the rest by bike.

Josh Miller

“I tell him it's like when he was a boy and he got bit by that tick, it’s like he got superhuman powers,” Miranda said.

Ah, the tick. 

It is “the tick” that explains the significance of the fundraising goal of $83,000.

Joshua’s kindergarten year, which began in 1983, was interrupted by a mysterious ailment that debilitated him for weeks. Eventually, a doctor visiting the hospital where Joshua was being treated suggested testing for Lyme disease, which is carried by ticks.

Treatments allowed him to get back to school, and according to Joshua’s older sister, Jamie, the family was told the visiting doctor had come from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. 

The story stuck with Jamie so deeply that when she worked at Kay Jewelers and sold stuffed bears to benefit St. Jude, she told customers that a St. Jude doctor helped heal her little brother.

Sometimes on those long, solitary stretches, Joshua remembers what it was like to feel so sick for weeks, and appreciates the health and strength driving his fundraising quest. Of the road, he said, “It’s beautiful, it’s spiritual. It’s also very lonely.”

But word has gotten out in a few places, from Instagram to passers-by who see the fundraising message on the back windows of the truck. Or, as happened in one North Carolina town, some folks out for a jog saw Joshua and ran along for a stretch.

“I’ve always wanted to be like Forrest Gump, gathering people as I run across America,” Joshua wrote. “And for those 10 minutes, I had a glimpse of what that would be like.”

A 35-mile Monday through the Cumberland plateau included a police escort and put him just under 100 miles from Nashville. The plan is to finish in Nashville at Riverfront Park on Sunday. 

Joshua likes to quote one of his distance-running friends: “Quit when you’re done, not when you're tired.”

At St. Jude, there’s another way to say it: With the support of efforts like the Miller family’s Queen City to Music City journey, we won’t stop until no child dies of cancer.

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