Utah Wildfire Alters Cross-Country Runner's Schedule

Jul 18, 2018

An extreme athlete running cross-country was forced to change his route to avoid a Utah wildfire. Christian Griffith is an ultra-endurance sports enthusiast whose crossing country run for a cause had him scheduled to travel through the state when the fire broke out earlier this month.

“So I am running for an organization called Help For Children, working for the prevention and treatment of child abuse. It works well for me because I was sexually abused as a child,” Griffith said.

The Dollar Ridge Wildfire destroyed several homes and has scorched nearly 89 square miles in Duchesne and Wasatch Counties. Fire management officials say the blaze is 85 percent contained.

Griffith learned about the state’s largest wildfire mid-run after facing snow, rains and floods while running through New York, New Jersey, Iowa, Nebraska and Colorado.  He did not consider having a plan to avoid the effects of a wildfire.

“That was the last thing in the world I ever thought of, right?” he said. “The fires had jumped U.S. Highway 40, and so they had closed 40 for a while. We were trying to navigate. It was really challenging.”  

Once Griffith and his support crew decided it was safe to leave Vernal and head toward Strawberry Reservoir, they chose to spend a couple of days visiting with community members living near the fire. Conversations about the impacts of a devastating fire were overheard while the crew was dining at Duchesne’s Cowan's Café.

“And the entire restaurant was engaged in conversation with me,” he said. “One guy had a story. His shed had burned to the ground. Other people were just kinda giving me warnings to be careful going here, be careful going there. Obviously the locals, they know a lot.”

Sitting atop his van before his scheduled day run Griffith can see the Fruitland church and command post where fire managers, containment crews and media gather.

“I think more than anything, just kind of a feeling of sadness, as I was running 40 because there’s entire mountainside stretches where they are just charred.”

When planning the Utah portion of the Help For Children run Griffith’s support team worried air quality could be a contender in the 3,000-mile trip. But the remaining physical reminders of a quick burning blaze didn’t faze Griffith. He is comfortable with extreme conditions. Griffith says welcomed rain showers helped to eliminate the smoky haze from earlier days and the smell of charred sagebrush was replaced by a level of concentration that has become therapeutic for someone dealing with the long-term impacts of abuse.

For Griffith, these cross-country runs for a cause have evolved. Ultra-endurance awareness campaigns have replaced more dangerous extreme sports activities. As a teenager, Griffith used competitive skateboarding to run away emotionally from an abusive environment.

“Because I just really didn’t want to go home, never really realizing why I like to suffer so much,” he said. “It just kinda calms the demons in my head. When I am physically suffering at great levels I don’t have as much energy to focus on the uncomfortable stuff.”

During stops in places like Duchesne, Griffith shares stories about how he has tempered emotional pains be replacing them with the challenges of physically enduring. Speaking out about child abuse is his way of encouraging community members to stand up for their children.

And because of help from fire crews combating this state’s wildfire, Griffith now has a safer route for his 30 miles a day run through Utah. Eventually, he will make it to Nevada and then San Francisco, California. Along the way, he will overcome heat and other natural elements to raise awareness and funds for the Help For Children organization working to combat child abuse.