Earlier this week, you may have seen a man with a long beard, wearing a neon green track shirt running along Highway 90 through St. Charles Parish.
That man was Michael Morris and he was making his way, running and hiking, along roadways connecting Houston to New Orleans.
Morris had been running for 22 days by the time he made it out of St. Charles Parish. During his trek, he racked up nearly 600 miles putting in anywhere from 18 to 39 miles a day.
Morris ran for Team Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in memory of his friend Debbie Cheramie, a Morgan City native who passed away at a hospital in Galveston last year. Morris aligned his schedule to make it from Houston to Tulane Hospital in New Orleans, where Debbie first began receiving treatment, exactly a year after her death.
Cystic fibrosis is a rare lung disease that is genetic in nature and attacks the lungs of those who are born with it and greatly shortens their life span.
Morris, a third generation antique door restoration craftsman, met Cheramie at an art exhibition.
“We met through a mutual friend of theirs and we just became friends ever since,” Morris said. “Debbie was a fighter. She didn’t let cystic fibrosis define who she was. It didn’t stop her from doing anything she wanted to do.”
Making his way along southern Louisiana he has met numerous people and has been treated to the hospitality of strangers, friends and family alike.
“It’s been great,” he said. “It’s breathtaking at most times taking it all in and hearing all the noises along the way and finding little objects here and there. People have been great by stopping off and handing me checks, cash and fruit.”
Morris said throughout his journey, which he has been chronicling on his Facebook page, he has met numerous cystic fibrosis patients.
“It’s like a spider web being built backwards,” Morris said. “All of these people connected to cystic fibrosis have had a way of showing up along the way.”
Morris said one night a friend of his called motels as he was preparing to pass through Jennings and found out that a motel owner’s daughter had cystic fibrosis.
“She said, ‘No, you are not paying to stay here,’” he said.
Another night, he had been in contact with a singer and showed up at her show.
“She stopped it right in the middle and said, ‘You’re finally here!’” Morris said. “People turned around expecting to see a celebrity, but it was just me.”
Morris said once people found out he was running for the Team Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, he began to receive donations on the spot and then a teenage boy walked up to him.
“He said ‘I’ve got cystic fibrosis and my brother sitting at the table over here has it too,’” Morris said. “I went over to their table and gave their dad a hug and he teared up and thanked me for what I was doing.”
At a stop in Morgan City, Morris received the key to the city from the mayor and stayed with Cheramie’s family for three days.
“A lot of the reaction that children have to this disease is negative. The doctors talk about their timeline and they know they only have a certain amount of time,” Morris said. “But it doesn’t have to be a negative thing and when I see people who are doing the most with what they have it invigorates me.”
The 180-pound Morris has been carrying a 60-pound travel bag on his back as he runs.
“I am burning about 4,100 calories a day or so,” Morris said.
Despite the rigorous regimen, Morris has stayed relatively healthy and only lost two pounds along the way.
He said having the extra weight on his back is nothing compared to what CF patients have to go through.
“It may be harder for me carrying this weight, but I think about all of their struggles and what they go through on a daily basis and then it puts any discomfort I may be feeling out of my mind,” he said.
Starting off with the fundraising goal of $2,500, Morris quickly surpassed that and has raised his goal to $10,000.
“When I hit $2,900 I bumped it up to $10,000. I figured if we could reach it to there, why not $10,000?” Morris said.
As far as why he took on his journey in memory of his friend, Morris said it was something he knew he could do.
“A lot of people asked me why I would do that,” Morris said. “I said, why not? I am a runner and I’m in good shape. It’s something I can do and I love the fact that people can benefit from me running. So it gives me all the more reason to run. Then along the way I’ve met so many people that have been affected by cystic fibrosis and I don’t look at it anymore that I’ve been affected by cystic fibrosis, but I’ve been inspired to help find a cure.”
After hearing about Morris’ run the Basketry donated $20 to the cause and challenged other businesses he passed along Highway 90 to match their donation.
If you would like to sponsor Morris by donating to Team Cystic Fibrosis, you can do so by visiting www.cff.org or sending a check with the info box filled out with Morris’ name to Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, 6931 Arlington Road, Bethesda, Maryland 20814.