Michigan man close to running marathons in all 50 states to help kids

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Tony Anderson loves the “frozen tundra of Lambeau Field,” and he lost his dad when he was 18 months old.

Though they could scarcely know, that coincidence of happiness and tragedy has been of enormous benefit to hundreds of children in northern Michigan.

Tony Anderson, 57, runs along Harrand Road south of Traverse City while training for his 48th marathon at the end of the month in Mississippi.

Anderson, 57, is closing in on a long-held dream of running marathons in 50 states and the District of Columbia.

He intends to notch his 47th state race in Mississippi on Nov. 30, and he has already run a marathon in D.C. If all goes well, he'll run the last three 26.2-mile races next year in Louisiana, Ohio and South Carolina.

His personal best? A finish of three hours, 47 minutes in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, on Oct. 6, 2013.

Along the way, through running, he has raised $500,000 for Big Sisters of Northwestern Michigan Big Brothers, shoring up the finances of the organization and providing mentors for several hundred kids throughout the years.

How did Anderson start running?

“The Green Bay Packers,” said Anderson, who's the general manager of the Cherryland Electric Co-op in Grawn, a town in Grand Traverse County.

“I was living over in Wisconsin, 35 miles north of Lambeau Field,” Anderson said. “And the first year of the Green Bay Marathon, they had a four-mile run, and I’d been playing a little basketball and I thought, well, I can run four miles.

“Because if you ran those four miles, you got to run on the grass at Lambeau Field! I’ve been a Packers fan since I was 10. So I got to run coast-to-coast at Lambeau Field,” he said. “It was pretty cool."

“And that was the only year they let people on the grass. Every year after and since, you have to run on the apron around the field.”

That was 2000. Anderson has not stopped running.

He says he will not, until he finishes the 50 states. Then he will probably adopt a more sedentary lifestyle, with his grandchildren more involved.

Anderson moved to Michigan in 2003, while his family remained in Wisconsin so his three children could finish school as he changed jobs. After running in the Bayshore Marathon in Traverse City, he joined the board of directors of Big Brothers Big Sisters in 2005.

“I lost my dad when I was 18 months old,” he said. “So I knew the story of the kids they served: Single-parent homes, low-income homes.

“I had lived that.”

When he joined the board, Anderson told folks he would be happy to do everything but ask people for money.

Having grown up on the poor side of things, he did not feel comfortable, he said.

“It wasn’t what I did,” Anderson said. “But as a couple of years went by, I got a little brother myself. I got involved in the organizations.”

As he sat on a plane in Minneapolis in 2009, waiting for a flight to Seattle, he said some people boarded who were talking about raising money to fight cancer by running in a marathon.

“That was the light bulb moment that, well, maybe a marathon is hard enough that people will donate money, and that will be my ask.”

Anderson is still asking, at Marathon4Kids.com.

It has worked, splendidly.

Anderson has logged more than 23,000 miles in the past 10 years, training and running races for charity.

“Tony is amazing. His direct commitment, his direct impact on Big Brothers Big Sisters is 500 kids,” said Cecilia Chesney, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sister of Northwestern Michigan. “If you want to equate it to dollars, it’s 500 children that he’s been able to help with.”

The organization serves children in five counties in the vicinity of Grand Traverse Bay: Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, Grand Traverse and Kalkaska.

“His impact is really honored in our community,” Chesney said. “He is relentless in everything he does.

“And he is such a great example, I think, of how we as individuals can change the trajectory of a child’s life,” she said. “All we have to do is be involved and be there, for that support.

“It is that simple.”