Runners join Christian Griffith (right) on his 3,000-mile “Run2Heal” across the country to raise awareness and funds for child abuse treatment and prevention.
Runners join Christian Griffith (right) on his 3,000-mile “Run2Heal” across the country to raise awareness and funds for child abuse treatment and prevention.

May 25, 2018

Christian Griffith feels it every time his feet meet the pavement, as he lopes through snow and falling ice and rain and unrelenting sun, from New York to Iowa and eventually to California.

Every footfall — enough to run 30 miles a day, five days a week, until he’s logged 3,000 miles — is a reminder of his purpose.

Standing on a quiet Iowa road recently on his way to a stop in Guthrie Center and Panora, sporting colorful tattoos, a hydration pack and no smile, Griffith holds up a sign:

“I’m running these hills to give silenced children a VOICE.”

He’s running for the 63,000 children that the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network says have been sexually abused each year in the United States in recent years.

He’s running for those who were abused before anyone kept track of how often it happened.

He’s running for himself.

‘NOW WHAT?’

When he was a young teenager, Griffith was sexually abused first by his mother and later by several men in his life.

As a boy in the ’80s with friends who were boys, he felt like the last thing he could do was talk about it.

What if his friends thought he was gay?

“The mom thing’s weird enough, but when the men did it, my big fear back then ... was anyone thinking I was gay,” Griffith said. “No 14-year-old boy, in his group of friends, wants anyone to know a man has had sex with him.”

So he filled his life with women and learned how to manipulate them, Griffith said.

And for years, male friends and coworkers — even bosses — lauded him for his “conquests.”

“Why would I ever change these behaviors when I was being rewarded for them?” he said. “I had a very skewed sense of masculinity, sexuality and relationships with women.”

For decades, Griffith, 47, didn’t tell anyone about the abuse.

He recalls several recent events that changed that.

While living and working in Nicaragua two years ago, he published an article online that revealed himself as a survivor of sexual abuse.

The distance had made him brave.

“I told my story to the world, and at first I thought, ‘This is awesome, I finally got this monkey off my back, I feel so good,’ and 30 seconds after, (I thought), ‘Oh my God, what the hell did I just do?’” he recalled.

But the next day, he was deluged with messages from people who told him: “It happened to me, too.”

It made him realize there was an “army” of survivors out there — he wasn’t alone, Griffith said.

Another push came from his current girlfriend, Lindsay, the first woman who didn’t put up with the manipulation tactics Griffith had cultivated. She told him to seek treatment or find a new girlfriend.

They have a baby together now — and the therapy he reluctantly started has changed his life, he said.

And what started it all was a trip to Australia in 2015, where Griffith met another man who has channeled childhood abuse into extreme sports, Damien Rider of Paddle Against Childhood Abuse, and finally spilled out his story to him in a message sent from an airplane — a story he hadn’t told before.

Rider wrote back: “Wow, mate. Now what?”

“All this I’m doing now is the ‘now what,’” Griffith said.

RUNNING THROUGH IOWA

Griffith has been into extreme sports for years.

He’s completed ultra-marathons — any race longer than the 26.2-mile distance of a marathon.

He’s done a few 100-mile races, usually spread out over a day or two

He’s run over volcanoes, through deserts and jungles and swamps.

He’s participated in CBS’s “World’s Toughest Mudder,” NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior” and the History Channel’s “The Selection: Special Operations Experiment.”

He was a sponsored amateur skateboarder.

But he’s never tried running across the entire country — until now.

He’s running 3,000 miles — about 30 miles a day, five days a week for five months — as a fundraiser for Help for Children, which provides grant money to local organizations actively working to prevent child abuse and treat those affected by it.

He’s calling it “Run2Heal.”

He wants to raise $1 million for the organization and has raised about $200,000 so far. More information about the run and donating is available at run2heal.hfc.org, on Facebook at “Run2Heal” and on Instagram at “run2heal.”

Griffith, who lives in Jacksonville Beach, Florida, and owns Live for a Living, a digital marketing and website development company, left New York on March 19 and expects to end in San Francisco on Aug. 23.

“I’m 1,200 miles in,” he said during a recent interview. “I’m beat to death. My body is shattered.”

But he’s pressing on.

He’s had strangers pull up beside him as he runs alongside a highway, introducing their kids to him and passing him cash through the window for the fundraiser.

He’s had families welcome him into their homes and serve him meals — recently, it was thick Iowa steaks.

He’s had other runners join him on the road for a few miles.

He recently stopped at Prime Time in Guthrie Center, sipped coffee with Guthrie County residents and stayed at The Port on Lake Panorama.

“I’ve heard so many people who haven’t even been (in Iowa) say, ‘Iowa will be miserable; it’s just cornfields and empty roads,’” Griffith said. “This has been my favorite state by far. Literally, my arm is tired from the amount of waving everyone has done.”

‘NO ONE DESERVES ABUSE’

Griffith kept the abuse a secret for 30 years.

He hopes his cross-country run, and his story, will encourage others to talk about it sooner.

He urges survivors of abuse like him to speak with someone they trust, to address the habits and coping mechanisms they might have developed after the abuse — and to go to therapy.

And he urges others in their lives to check their reactions.

“We celebrate having a CrossFit membership or going to the gym so much, but having a ‘mental health membership’ — you cast a side-eye at people,” he said.

Sexual abuse and assault are still taboo because so many people simply don’t want to hear about it, he said.

“At the end of the day, if you don’t talk about it and share your experiences and talk about what’s happening out there, then we don’t really grasp the intensity and the ugliness of this situation, and it’s easy to ‘vanilla-ize’ it with surface words and move on,” Griffith said.

That’s why he’s been particularly inspired, Griffith said, by the women who have come forward about being assaulted as part of the #metoo movement that once again gained momentum in recent months.

He spoke of the women who took down Harvey Weinstein.

Then Bill Cosby.

And Larry Nassar.

And scores of others.

“The door was cracked open with the Weinstein case, and then the women kicked the door down,” Griffith said. “They said, ‘We’ve had enough.’”

Maybe soon there will be a similar reckoning for those who prey on male victims, Griffith said. He wants to be a voice for those victims — the boys and men whose experiences often are even more mocked or disbelieved by members of society.

His message to other survivors of sexual abuse is that they’re not alone.

“We tend to isolate ourselves, not tell people it’s happened, try to pretend it’s not happening and, in extreme cases, we believe we deserve it,” Griffith said. “I want people to know no one deserves it. No one deserves abuse.”

He’ll turn 48 somewhere on the road this summer, maybe in Nevada or California, but his plans for that day are just to keep running.

This year’s not about him.