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Vicksburg man runs 50 marathons in 50 days for Katrina relief

Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. - A Mississippi man is attempting a "Forrest Gump" type feat, with a significant difference - he has a specific purpose for running.

Samuel Thompson, 25, of Vicksburg is trying to run 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 consecutive days, all to raise awareness of the Mississippi Gulf Coast's continuing recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

"If people don't see coverage or information about devastation, they just kind of forget about it and assume that it is all better," Thompson told The Associated Press during a phone interview Thursday from a hotel room in Reno, Nev.

Thompson's journey began on July 1 in Leadville, Colo., where he ran the marathon while in the beginning stages of a head cold. He is scheduled to wrap up on Aug. 19 in Bay St. Louis, Miss., where he has been doing volunteer work in a Katrina recovery center.

Thompson has yet to attract a sponsor for his run. His mother, Diane, said Thompson runs each marathon in a printed T-shirt advertising his need for a sponsor. Until then, nightly hotel stays, gasoline, food and plane tickets are out of his own pocket.

Thompson started Thursday's marathon preparation at 6 a.m., just hours after arriving from Salt Lake City in a rented Toyota van. Before a marathon Thompson usually stretches and takes time to update his web site http://www.50in50in50.com, which contains his daily blog or Web journal. In a blog entry on Wednesday Thompson compared his journey to the film "Cool Runnings."

"We've been comparing this mission to that of the Jamaican bobsled team since the beginning. We're starting off kind of flying by the seats of our pants on faith, but momentum is picking up even faster than we'd thought!" he wrote.

The 2003 graduate of Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn., estimates he has competed in more than 40 marathons since turning 18, in addition to running cross country track in high school. About two years ago, Thompson completed a solo run of the entire Appalachian Trail, a trek of more than 2,000 miles through 14 states.

"He ran out of the womb," said Diane Thompson, who is also logistics coordinator for the journey.

Thompson is running in several official marathons, but to make his self-imposed deadline he will need to run 26.2 miles, the distance of a marathon, in some states on his own.

His mother, dietitian and masseuse Kirsten Sellereit and photographer and videographer Andres Arciniegas travel with Thompson, often driving alongside him while he runs alone.

The idea of this unique challenge had always been in Thompson's head. He just needed a reason to do it. Thompson found one after working in the small town of Bay St. Louis after Hurricane Katrina struck Aug. 29. Thompson helped establish a relief effort in the First Presbyterian Church in Bay St. Louis, where he works with 100 volunteers.

Diane Thompson said her son's deadline of 50 consecutive days is a way to show his commitment to the project.

"He is showing how he is willing to sacrifice and demanding more of himself and going beyond his comfort zone," she said.