Updated on May 4, 2020.
Editor’s note: On Sunday, May 3, Tony Anderson finished his 51st marathon in Traverse City, Michigan, accompanied by a cadre of running companions, a start-to-finish police escort, a U.S. Coast Guard flyover and local supporters cheering from inside their cars.
“If you ever wanted to mic-drop a marathon, do it with a 26.2 mile-police escort in front of your hometown fans,” said Anderson in a Facebook Live interview at the finish line. “That’s the absolutely coolest thing ever. It was a beautiful day to run and we got it done.”
See below for a photo gallery from Anderson’s final run for his favorite charity.
People are driven to run marathons for a lot of reasons: to improve health, relieve stress, or push themselves to new physical and mental heights. For Tony Anderson, it’s a mission “to change the ending for kids in need.”
Cherryland Electric Cooperative CEO and NRECA secretary/treasurer has completed marathons in 49 states and the District of Columbia to raise funds and awareness for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwestern Michigan.
He was set to run the final marathon of this challenge in Ohio on May 3, but the event was canceled over coronavirus concerns.
Anderson has opted to run the final 26.2 miles of his journey in his hometown of Traverse City, Michigan, with friends. Witnesses will verify his time.
“I can’t ask a majority of supporters to travel in these uncertain times,” he wrote on his
Marathons4Kids blog after making his decision. “This decision is what is best for the kids we serve. Let’s roll!”
Since 2009, Anderson has been either training for or coming off of a marathon. Along the way, his online fundraising site has pulled in more than $500,000 in sponsorships and “Buck a Mile” donations for the organization. The funds will support 500 matches between “Bigs” and the “Littles” they mentor.
“When you change the ending for one kid, you can change generations of his or her family to follow. This is what fuels my desire to run marathons…giving kids a chance at a better life,” said Anderson.
Twice a “Big Brother,” Anderson can relate to the often-heartbreaking lives of the “Littles.” When he was 18 months old, his father died in a car accident while riding in a vehicle driven by a drunk driver, and he grew up in a 10-foot-by-50-foot trailer in South Dakota. His mother worked full time, and he remembers the strong, guiding presence of Russell “Rusty” Anderson, his greatest mentor and paternal grandfather.
As a young boy, Anderson noted during a 2016 TedX Talk in Traverse City, he “hung on Grandpa Rusty’s every word,” looking for stories about his deceased father—but the older Anderson wasn’t forthcoming.
“Grandpa Rusty wasted no time telling me about a man from my past. Instead, he stepped up and was the man who taught me about life lessons to prepare for my future.”
Over the years, Anderson has received honors for his charitable work—among them a distinguished service award from the Traverse City Chamber of Commerce in 2018. His leadership and humility have made him something of a local celebrity, says Cecilia Chesney, BBBS executive director. Just the other day, she says, a few people came up to her in a restaurant wanting to help the organization. They had heard about Anderson.
“They said, ‘Wow. That Tony Anderson is something. We need to do more.’”
His commitment has rubbed off on BBBS directors, too.
“When I started 10 years ago with a 17-member board, I’d say maybe three to four [directors] were really engaged and making a difference,” Chesney said. “Today, with a 10-member board, they are all 100% engaged, all the time.”
The solitude of running allows the mind to rest and roam. And while pounding out some 20,000 miles—and going through nearly 60 pairs of running shoes—Anderson said he’s been able to attain something he has long sought.
“There is peace when you can answer your ‘Why?’ For decades I wondered why my dad had to die. After I started [Marathon4Kids], I no longer asked, ‘Why?’ He left so I could help others. I’m at peace, because I finally have an answer to the questions that I cried myself to sleep over as a child. It is worth all the pain of the miles of marathons.”