In October 2013, Austin Shirley, a 25-year-old Navy veteran, created Chasing the Sun 2013 to document on Facebook his cross-country fundraising walk from Jacksonville, Florida to San Diego, California. He is traveling more than 2,500 miles on foot to raise money and awareness for Wounded Wear, a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to helping warriors rediscover the hero within through clothing, clothing modifications, and events.
Some people spend their 20s climbing the career ladder, looking to make a name for themselves in the world. Others use the years after high school to hit the dance clubs and the dating scene, worrying more about where the party is at than where their paycheck is coming from. And then there are the rare individuals who dedicate their youthful energy to helping others rather than helping themselves.
Austin Shirley is one of those people. The 25-year-old is currently mid-way through a cross-country trek from Florida to California, walking from burgs to big cities to raise money for Wounded Wear, a non-profit that provides free clothing and modifications to wounded warriors. He started the journey last October and has developed a loyal fan base of more than 12,000 followers on his Facebook community, dubbed “Chasing the Sun 2013.”
After selling all of his worldly possessions and spending $2,000 on camping gear and supplies at REI (Recreational Equipment Inc.) for himself and his dog Archer, he was ready to hit the road. Two days before he left, he had the idea to make the journey about more than his own healing and help others in the process. He reached out to former Navy Seal and wounded warrior Jason Redman, the founder of Wounded Wear, and offered to raise money for their organization during his trip.
“All he messaged back was, ‘Love the idea. Register for our event team, and you can be a part of it,’” recalls Austin. To hold himself accountable, Austin logged 200 miles before signing up as a Wounded Wear supporter. To date he has raised more than $25,000 for the charity, nearing the halfway mark toward his $50,000 goal.
Of course, the going has not been easy. Although some may have romantic notions of the fictitious Forrest Gump jogging from coast to coast, in reality, trekking more than 20 miles a day on foot with limited access to food, water and shelter takes tremendous physical and mental stamina. Says Austin, “You have your isolated days out in the middle of nowhere. You get cut off when your phone dies and you’re between towns. You’re shacked up in a tent when it’s freezing outside. It’s a fight, and a lot of people I don’t think would make it. If it weren’t for the purpose that I am doing this, I probably wouldn’t have made it.”
In addition to the companionship of his Siberian husky named Archer, Austin has another friend walking with him. His long-time friend Bryan Cochran, also a Navy vet, first joined the walk in Shreveport, Louisiana.