Donna Furey| LB Indy
South county resident, Dennis Yang, 39, will be out of the blocks on August 25 starting his Great Reading Run 2014.
He intends to run a carefully planned 11,000 course around the perimeter of the country through 35 states, beginning and ending in Santa Monica.
The 18-month trip will follow a southern route to Florida where he will finish stage one of the trip on or about Jan.13 in a town called Marathon.
This will be Yang’s second long distance run to promote literacy and donate books to underprivileged children along the way. In 2011 he ran across the United States from Long Beach to New York passing out the books he’s authored.
While he’s written more than 100 stories featuring a variety of human and animal characters under the Papa Didos pseudonym (taken from his son’s earliest pronunciation of his name), only four have been published thus far. The stories were originally written to maintain a connection with his son when he was not able to do so in person.
At 31, Yang found himself with a floundering business and separated from his son’s mother. Financial necessity forced him to re-evaluate his priorities; he opted for a less materialistic, more humanitarian approach to life.
An avid runner, he founded the Papa Didos Ideals Foundation, a nonprofit organization committed to promoting reading, fitness and goal setting in school-aged children. The idea came to him through his own exposure to different cultures as a child growing up in various locales around the world where he was able to witness first hand the connection between literacy and prosperity.
To date Yang has raised less than $1,000 dollars toward his goal of $1 million. However, Yang and his girlfriend, Chrystal Love are optimistic that the run will be a success. Along the way, Love will be driving the fifth wheel, which is presently the couple’s home, carrying their gear, books and other promotional items such as stickers and plush toys.
While Yang doesn’t know if they will raise all the money, “I’m pretty sure we’ll at least break even,” he says. If they do come close to their goal, five more books will be put into production along with “Chuck” a stuffed animal in the likeness of a book character. Laguna College of Art and Design students or teachers have illustrated previous books.
The pair has faith that once they’re underway more donations will be generated through news and social media and that sponsors will come forward. Currently they have a few vitality drink and vitamin sponsors, about a dozen hotel room donations and a few pairs of shoes donated by friends. Yang is unconcerned about the loss of a major shoe sponsor, saying on his blog, “Luckily I’ve prepared for this scenario. I have scrimped and pinched and saved every cent that has come my way over the past two years so that I could make this journey a reality. The support, from friends and family, is what will get me through this adventure. It is fitting really, since the journey isn’t about the corporations. This journey is about the people and places, the sights, sounds, and smells.”
Obstacles are not unknown to Yang. On the 2011 run, the support van being driven by his mother, was struck by another vehicle in Missouri. She was injured so Yang stopped the run, rented a car to drive his mother to stay with family members in Ohio and then came back to Missouri to continue the run on his own. He purchased a running stroller to carry his shoes, snacks water and tent.
Board member and friend, Nick Sasano says he’s more concerned about gas money than shoes, but says “Dennis is the kind of guy who has always managed to survive on peanuts.” He adds that, “Dennis is a modest guy but he always has a story.”
Like the time in Joplin, Missouri, when he had to hide out with the stroller in a Dairy Queen due to an approaching tornado. He’s hoping that Yang’s girlfriend coaxes him to share those stories on his blog as the trip progresses.
In 2011 Sasano mapped the route, this time Love has taken that responsibility charting a course that will enable Yang to stop and see friends he met on the first run. Sasano will handle Yang’s mail and ship books to him along the route.
“Whatever he needs, I’m here,” says Sasano.
Dennis’ mother, Elizabeth Yang, 66 who lives in a senior community in Twin Peaks, California will not be making this trip. She says she’s not completely recovered from the 2011 experience but she may try to meet him and Love in Phoenix.
She says that Love, who is setting her own goal of finishing a bachelor’s degree aside for the duration of the trip, seems quite capable of filling her previous role but she is still worried about them. She tearfully acknowledges that she is grateful that her son meets “so many nice and kind people along the way,” noting that running 20 to 30 miles each day over sometimes rough terrain or through bad weather is dangerous.
She will wait by her computer for updates on the journey, adding that what he does is important, “it gives him courage.”