They knew they would learn something about heart, dedication, and physical stamina when they set off for Toledo on their improbable, 250-mile journey from the Cincinnati-Dayton area, kicking a soccer ball along the way to raise money for a Toledo charity.
But Jake Essig, Isaac Beal, Nick Streibick, and Derek Garde — the foursome behind an initiative called Dribble4Toledo — said they weren’t expecting so many life lessons in the power of the human spirit.
Now scheduled to arrive in Toledo on Saturday after only 12 days — fewer than half their anticipated 25 days — the four said Thursday they’ve been touched by random acts of kindness.
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“We’ve taken away a fresh outlook on life and a new take on life,” Mr. Essig, 21, of Monroe, Ohio, said.
The moral support augments $10,000 or more the foursome hopes to raise in financial support for LifeLine Toledo, an organization started in 2006 to fight poverty in the city.
The encouragement has been as simple as a smile from a stranger or a driver offering a friendly honk and a thumbs-up.
Those seem like small gestures.
But they’re big when you’re kicking a ball along country roads from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day in bright sun and grueling heat.
The soccer ball is tethered to keep it from rolling into traffic.
The group planned to camp along U.S. 127 and U.S. 20, its primary route.
But it never did because so many people offered accommodations.
And Waterville-area friends are apparently eager to put the foursome up tonight, their final night on the road.
More accommodations than expected, including most meals, were offered by rural Ohio residents and country churches to help defray costs.
Several came forward on short notice after hearing about the unusual fund-raiser by word-of-mouth or via social media sites such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, where the four promoted Dribble4Toledo and have posted numerous updates.
“The hospitality has been incredible. They’ve treated us like their kids,” Mr. Garde, 21, of Monroe, said.
One stranger in Ansonia, Ohio, northwest of Dayton, gave them use of his house and said he would prefer to sleep at the church that had offered to put them up.
In the Bryan area, people they’d never met bought them a night at a motel and dinner at a restaurant Wednesday night.
Backpacks loaded with tents and other camping gear never left a support van driven by Mr. Beal’s parents.
The generosity of others allowed them to do the trek in 12 days, a pace of nearly 21 miles a day. For several days, they’ve averaged 24 miles a day — just shy of a daily marathon.
All four joked about tightened hamstrings while stopping for lunch between West Unity and Fayette on Thursday.
But aside from a few aches, there have been no pulled muscles, twisted ankles, scrapes, or other real problems.
They’ve been blessed by rain-free weather. But the forecast for Saturday is not so promising..
They used LifeLine Toledo’s community dinner Saturday night as their motivation for a 12-day hike.
The dinner, which begins at 5:30 p.m., is the first Saturday of every month at 2725 Collingwood Ave., according to LifeLine’s Web site.
LifeLine Toledo is an unconventional ministry on wheels that has been providing food and other humanitarian services to the city’s needy the last seven years, including medical checkups and health supplies since 2009.
Mr. Essig and Mr. Beal, 22, of Greenfield, Ind., near Indianapolis, were teammates this year on Huntington University’s soccer team. Mr. Essig graduated May 18.
The two came up with the idea for the fund-raiser after visiting Toledo for a soccer camp last summer and learning about LifeLine from its founder, the Rev. Steve North, associate pastor of New Harvest Christian Church in Oregon.
Mr. Streibick, 20, of Monroe, and Mr. Garde attend school elsewhere.
The foursome was joined for one day of their walk Thursday by two friends, as well Russ Lawson, Huntington University men’s soccer coach.
Mr. Lawson said he has “an overwhelming sense of pride that they had something in their heart and had the courage and drive to follow through with it.”
Huntington is affiliated with the Church of the United Brethren in Christ.
Students there are encouraged to participate in community service activities as part of their education.
Dribble4Toledo’s fund-raiser likely will be talked about at Huntington for years, Mr. Lawson said.
“Inspirational? Absolutely,” he said.
Contact Tom Henry at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6079.