GVSU student takes part in ‘MS Run The US’

Brandon Yonke overlooks the Mojave Desert during his segment of the relay.

Courtesy/Brandon Yonke

Brandon Yonke overlooks the Mojave Desert during his segment of the relay.

Kate Nuyen

Grand Valley State University senior Brandon Yonke could be compared to a modern-day Forest Gump – except he isn’t running across the country just because he feels like it.

Yonke is a part of a relay team called MS Run The US, Inc. Their mission is to connect distance runners who take part in a 3,000-mile relay while raising awareness and funds for multiple sclerosis research.

The 2014 race started in Los Angeles on April 13 and ended in New York City in mid August. It was set up to have each runner run 26.2 miles a day for five to nine consecutive days. Yonke ran a nine-day segment, but stayed on as a crew member for 2,100 miles.

Yonke started in Las Vegas and stayed on the road until Chicago. As part of the race, the organization donated a wheelchair while the relay was still going on and even ran with runners who had multiple sclerosis.

Prior to running across the country, Yonke didn’t know anyone who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, but along the way he discovered a deeper connection to the people he was running for.

“During the race I was able to see how strong and full of life people who have MS are,” he said. “It really pulled at my heart strings. The whole team became a family, but I ended up feeling the strongest connection toward the people that we were affecting.”

Yonke sees running as a gift. Even James McAlloon, a long-time friend and an adventure enthusiast himself, sees that in Yonke.

“The MS Run the US run opened up his mind to the possibilities out there and the fortune he has to be a fit young athlete, without the everyday struggle of a disease like MS,” McAlloon said.

With the help of sponsors, Yonke was able to raise enough money for a vehicle to be used in future runs as part of the effort to raise awareness for the disease.

When running a marathon for nine days in a row, there is always a chance that things will not go as anticipated. While Yonke didn’t experience any injuries, he said he did hallucinate one night from exhaustion.

“I ran sunset to sunrise through a part of the desert that didn’t have any civilization,” he said. “During that time I saw plants get massive. A normal little bush on the side of the road would take up the entire horizon. I also thought some cows were a pack of wolves. It freaked out my crew a little bit.”

Even through the unknown twists and turns of a cross-country race, Yonke still feels a strong connection to the organization. He doesn’t know if he will be committing to being a part of the relay on an annual basis, but he does know that he wants to stay involved.

Yonke plans on graduating in the spring and doesn’t think he will have the time while looking for an internship or a full-time job. He said he hopes to use his marketing degree from GVSU to help him open a running retail store in the future.

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