Dear Sports Illustrated,
My name is Jim Dunn and I am 16 yrs. old.
I am a long-distance runner. And for many years now
I have had a project in mind....
That was our introduction, in June 1973, to Jim Dunn of Del Mar, Calif., athlete and author. The project he had in mind was a two-month run up the Pacific Coast, from the Mexican border to Canada, and a story about the experience. His letter found its way to the desk of Assistant Managing Editor Gilbert Rogin, who replied cautiously:
"We are somewhat intrigued by your proposal. When do you plan to start? Please don't get your hopes up. At the moment we are just curious."
August 11, 1974
Jim wrote back:
"I would like to start as soon as possible. I will try to keep an average of 35-40 miles a day. I will try to never take assistance of any kind (cars, ferries, etc.). It wouldn't be right if I did. I await your reply."
A few days later Rogin, convinced by now that Jim's determination would see the project through and that his intelligence would make it an interesting story, gave Jim the go-ahead and offered some editorial advice:
"Since you are not a professional writer I think the best way to do it is in diary form or as if you were writing a letter to a very good friend. Write simply, informally. We want the piece to sound as though it were written by a bright 16-year-old, not Norman Mailer, not a columnist for the Los Angeles Times."
On June 23, 1973, one week before his departure, Jim wrote:
"Thank you very much for the once in a lifetime opportunity you have given me. I will not fail."
In the following weeks Rogin received a series of postcards, one from a state park north of Malibu, Calif. ("I am alive and feel good after a week on the road"); another from San Mateo, Calif. ("Today I will be over the Golden Gate Bridge and then I will be away from big cities for a while"); a third from Mount Vernon, Wash. ("I hope you don't think I quit or anything. I will be done tomorrow. I have experienced much").
Last fall, with the same will that saw him through his 1,750-mile adventure, Jim set out to write about it. The next we heard from him was on Feb. 27 of this year. "So far," he said, "I have written 40 double-spaced typed pages. I guess when I get finished, I will have a book. I get into the writing mood more nowadays." Finally, on April 6 we received his 105-page manuscript with a note that said, "Here it is! At last." A shortened version of what he wrote begins on page 54 of this issue.
Jim Dunn is 17 now. When school starts this fall he will be a senior at San Dieguito High School, where he runs cross-country but does not compete in track.
"I don't like to race all that much," he says, "or go in circles either. I feel that cross-country running gives you more than just a chance to race. I am alone with my mind when I run, despite the constant return to reality after a whiff of the exhaust of a car. That is one of the low points for an urban runner. I am not too fast either. But I do have a great will."
So, apparently, does his mother, Diantha, who made it all possible by accompanying Jim in a mini-camper. She lost 20 pounds on the trip, mostly from worrying, but would do it again, she says, without a second thought. Jim, the sixth of her seven children, says of her, "She has a wonderful outdoor spirit.... She loves to fish but never catches anything. Her spare time is used up by her avid reading hobby. She reads more than anyone I know."
Now Diantha Dunn and the rest of us can add Jim Dunn to our summer reading list.