A big run for a good causeRosemount resident Aaron Smith plans to run across Minnesota starting June 23
By: Emily Zimmer, Rosemount Town Pages
Aaron Smith has ridden his bike across the United States multiple times. He’s ridden through Europe and in Thailand and raised thousands of dollars for charity causes in the process. But until this year, he’s never been much of a runner.
He’s learning fast, though.
On June 23, Smith and a three other runners will gather in Watertown, S.D., to start a run that will eventually take them to Prescott, Wis. They will run more than 200 miles in all – more than 30 miles some days – and they will make stops along the way to talk to churches and community groups in an effort to raise money and support for the Just+Hope Campaign, an effort to raise awareness of oppression, poverty and human trafficking overseas.
Smith hopes to push the group to run a marathon every day during the trip. That’s a big change from where he was just six months ago.
“I started running in January, and it was very difficult,” Smith said. “When I started I could only run a mile and a half. Now I’m up to 40 to 50 miles a week, every week.”
The group will visit Community of Hope Church July 4 as part of the church’s freedom celebration.
For Smith, a Rosemount resident since 2007, the trip is part business, part pleasure. He is one of the co-founders of Venture Expeditions, a nonprofit organization that organizes endurance athletic events as a platform for fundraising efforts. The group arranges a cross-country bike ride every summer, and has led outings to climb Mount Kilimanjaro or bike through Machu Pichu or along the continental divide.
The whole thing started as a bit of an adventure. Smith was a student at North Central University in 2002 when one of the other students on his floor asked if he was interested in biking across the country. Smith wasn’t, at least at first, but the more he thought about it, the more the idea appealed to him. He decided to do the ride as a fundraiser, and he ended up raising $17,000 for a mission in Argentina.
The next summer, he biked from Lisbon, Portugal to Warsaw, Poland and raised $27,000 to fight AIDS in Africa.
Things kept growing from there. Now the group has raised more than $1 million for various causes. They partner with a group in Thailand to do work there and have raised money for clinics in Africa
None of it was in Smith’s original plan. He was journalism major in college with a concentration in design and editing. But it all seemed to make sense as it was happening.
“It just kind of happened naturally,” Smith said. “I just walked through the doors that were opening for me. People rallied around it and wanted to support it and make it into a well-planned, legitimate nonprofit.”
Participants in the Venture Expeditions trips cover their own expenses and are expected to raise money in addition to those costs. The group also usually receives donations from the churches where they stop along the way. They have had churches donate as much as $12,000.
What started as an adventure has turned into a satisfying career.
“I sleep well at night knowing that I get to do some good for people,” Smith said.
He will also likely sleep well during the run that gets under way Saturday. The group plans to run four days at a time, then stop for two. And while he is still relatively new to running, Smith is looking forward to another new experience.
“Anytime I do a trip through Venture it’s a great time for soul discovery,” he said. “I’m excited about just kind of unplugging for two weeks and reflecting on life as I’m running across the country. I’m excited about the funds I’ll be able to raise.”
More information about next week’s run is available at ventureexpeditions.org. Smith will also maintain a personal blog about the run at aaronwilliamsmith.com.