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Californian running across U.S. in disease fundraiser visits Forward Twp. family

| Monday, Oct. 28, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Noah Coughlan holds Rex Timko of Forward Township during a stop in Chess Park in Monongahela on Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013. Coughlan is making his second cross-country run to raise awareness of Batten Disease, a rare and terminal brain disease which Timko is stricken with.

When Noah Coughlan sat down with the Allio family in 2011 to explain his fundraiser for their two children stricken with Batten Disease, they thought he was planning a bake sale.

“I pulled out a map and said, ‘I want to run from there to there – pointing to San Francisco and Orlando.'”

When the Napa (California) Police Academy graduate made that cross-country trip two years ago, he was running for Catie and Annie Allio, the daughters of his close friend and youth group pastor.

On Sunday, when the Vacaville, Calif., resident passed through the Mid-Mon Valley during his second “Run Across America,” he was running for the 2,000 children worldwide stricken with the rare and terminal brain disease.

The 29-year-old Californian is seeking to become only the 27th person to cross the country on foot twice.

Coughlan entered Pennsylvania over the weekend, the 11th state he has run through on his cross-country voyage.

Leaving Washington, Pa., Sunday morning, he arrived at Chess Park in Monongahela around 3 p.m. There, he met the family of 5-year-old Rex Timko, a Forward Township boy stricken with Batten Disease.

He first met the Timkos in Nashville in July, a week before embarking on his latest trip. Saturday night, he ate dinner with the family and then joined the Timkos and other friends and neighbors during a mini rally in Monongahela. He received a police escort through downtown Monongahela.

“Today is dedicated to Rally for Rex,” Coughlan said.

He has met the families of more than 50 children suffering with Batten Disease.

“It's all about the kids,” Coughlan said.

When he first researched the syndrome, Coughlan said there was underlying theme from the parents of children suffering from Batten Disease - a desire for more awareness about the illness which is so anonymous among the public consciousness.

“I wanted to do something so big that the media couldn't ignore it,” Coughlan said.

The 2001 trip took the short course to go from coast to coast, roughly 2,500 miles. The current voyage, though will exceed 3,200. This trip was specifically planned to go through the heartland of America, hitting major cities and media outlets throughout the Midwest and especially the northeast. That itinerary also maximizes the number of Batten families he can meet.

Unlike in 2011, Coughlin is running without a support team. But he is benefitting from having made the trip before.

“This time, I am stronger physically and mentally, and I'm more media savvy,” Coughlan said.

Carrying an American flag, Coughlan has touched a chord with the people he has met this time. They honk as they pass; others give him money for the cause, or food and drink. One family gave him overnight access to their cabin.

“The whole country has become my support group,” Coughlan said.

He knows just 48 hours in advance where he will sleep, sometimes in cut-rate hotels, sometimes through the mercy of people.

There are too many variables on the road to plan any further ahead.

Otherwise, he pushes a three-wheel stroller which carries items he needs. He has gone through nine pairs of shoes. He is carrying two more pair in his stroller.

To maintain the grueling pace, Coughlan consumes as much as 6,000 to 9,000 calories a day. Still, he has lost 25 pounds.

He marveled at the beauty of the desert, where he camped out, ditching his tent in Illinois because he knew cold weather was ahead. Coughlan also endured a hail storm in Colorado that detoured him through Wyoming.

“I'm at the mercy of Mother Nature,” Coughlan said. “This is not an ideal time to run across America.”

Running solo, Coughlan runs along main roads. But he carries with him a GPS unit which tracks where he is at and would send out an emergency signal if he were injured. Still, the trip has its hazards. He admitted his hip was out a bit, noting, “That's what happens when you run on the left side of the road across the country,” Coughlin said.

Coughlan admitted the danger and lately, the weather has affected him, especially the cold.

Crossing over into Pennsylvania Saturday night marked Coughlan's first trip on foot through the state.

“It's a beautiful state, especially with all of the trees,” Coughlan said.

“But, it will be my last physical challenge. I've always known that Pennsylvania has some hills.

“Pennsylvania will be my last big hurdle before I hit the Atlantic Coast.”

His mad dash to the finish will include passing the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, this week during his eight days through Pennsylvania.

He intermixes some walking with his running, noting, “That's the only way to get up the next day.

“My body's at the point that it accepts it,” Coughlan said of the daily strain.

He averages 35 miles a day, but admits, “There's some 40-mile days coming up.”

By day's end Sunday, Coughlan still had 620 miles to go before reaching the beach at Boston 4 p.m. Nov. 10.

With history on the horizon for Coughlan, he knows that only one person has ever made the cross-country trip three times. Coughlan said he might consider it only if he felt he could make a further impact on awareness of Batten Disease. A similar trip in Canada or Ireland, for example, is something he might also consider.

Coughlan admitted that the elements and the grind of the trip can weigh on him. But there is one thing which first and still motivates him to carry on.

“Seeing the families reminds me why I make this trip,” Coughlan said.

“They're the one reason I'm still running.”

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or

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