When Marshall Hardee of Conway ran onto the sand in Myrtle Beach on June 22, he had made his dream of running across America come true.
Beginning by the Pacific in Oceanside, California on February 9, he crossed the country alone on his feet, racking up enough experiences and memories to last a lifetime before leaping into the Atlantic as friends and family members welcomed him home.
Hardee, a son of Tim Hardee and Tammy Hardee, flew to California accompanied by his mother and his sister, Melissa Goldston. They took pictures on the beach and watched him begin his journey of over 2,700 miles.
The people he met along the way verified his faith in humanity.
“I really can’t stress how nice everyone was. It was very societal affirming,” he said, as he spoke of the kindness of strangers.
A grandson of Nelson Graham and Janice Watson Graham, Hardee graduated from Conway High in 2013. In December of 2016, he graduated early from Clemson University with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences.
Since making the journey was a big thing, he decided to make it a run for the manatees, opened a gofundme page and collected over $200 for them.
While running across the country, he celebrated his 22nd birthday.
The improvised stroller he was pushing carried his tent, hammock, water, and other items he needed. Some people thought there was a baby in it and yelled that he shouldn’t be pushing a baby beside the road. A police officer stopped to tell him the same thing.
While everything he carried was important, the small solar panel that kept his phone charged, his lights burning, and everything else that needed power working, may have been his most important piece of equipment, he said.
Jess Glasgow of Conway, who has been Hardee’s best friend since they were in the third grade, was among the people waiting for him near the Second Avenue pier. Glasgow said Hardee had been talking about making the trip for years.
“At first, I thought maybe he bit off more than he could chew, but he proved me wrong, clearly,” Glasgow said.
After they went to college and Hardee concentrated more on training and planning the trip, and reaching out to others who had made similar journeys, Glasgow knew it was going to happen. “I knew if there was anybody in the world that could do it, it was him,” Glasgow said.
Now, like Hardee’s other friends and family members, Glasgow is very proud of him. “I’m as proud as I can be,” he said.
Since all state laws prohibited Hardee from running or walking beside interstates, he had to find other routes, and in Arizona, that led him to his scariest night. In the desert, he noticed some U.S. military signs and thought there was an old base somewhere. He pitched his tent and was inside when the sky exploded. “I said, ‘man, it’s bright out there, and I looked,” he said. “What I thought was an old base turned out to be a live firing range.”
He said he watched as C-130s dropped magnesium flares, lighting up targets for jets that were soaring down and shooting at them.
The next morning, he got out of there fast, he said, and on his way, he saw old Army transport trucks that were the targets.
Cold, heat, rain and thunderstorms came as he thought they might, but he did not expect the Arizona sandstorm that wrapped him in darkness with very little visibility and clung to him when it finally ended.
He said he saw many new and beautiful things, and the gypsum crystal sand and huge dunes of White Sands National Monument Park top that list. “That definitely takes the number one spot,” he said. “I went sledding. I cut up a water jug and used it for a sled.”
Except for about six nights, he slept in his tent. Outside Lubbock, Texas, he slept in a grain silo owned by a friend’s family and hung the hammock he made with crab nets high on long extension cords, which allowed him to swing.
There were times when he did not see a person for four or five days. There were times when he thought he wouldn’t realize his dream. But every time, he bounced back and carried on. He would run for miles and then walk some, and he did a lot of thinking about his future, “short-term and long term,” he said. “Running has always been cathartic. I’ve always used it to put things in perspective.”
During breaks while attending Clemson, he took a certified nursing assistant course and then worked nights at a Greenville Hospital, helping patients and saving money for his trip. He said he likes being in the healthcare field and now plans to attend pharmacy school.
In high school, he ran some track and cross country. He was “pretty good” at reaching the finish line, he said. “But I was never a particularly fast runner or stand out star.”
He said he hopes people who hear his story will be inspired to follow their dreams and will not wait until it is too late to do so.