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Kyle Potter, Published February 18 2014

Speaker's message to Fargo middle-school students: 'Nothing is impossible'

FARGO – Terry Hitchcock set out to run a 2,000-plus mile route from St. Paul to Atlanta in 75 days – more than 75 marathons in as many days. He ran much of his journey on two broken ankles and a cracked kneecap, but he made it.

“I was in really bad shape,” Hitchcock told sixth- and seventh-grade students at Carl Ben Eielson Middle School in Fargo on Tuesday. “But I just believed I could complete it.”

Hitchcock made that journey in 1996, shortly after losing his wife to breast cancer. Inspired by tales of hardship and unexpected success – and by his children – Hitchcock mapped out his course to raise awareness about single parents and their children.

Now 74, with a raspy voice worn thin by speaking engagements and hardened by a difficult childhood spotted with homelessness, Hitchcock used his story to illustrate his message to Fargo middle schoolers: “Nothing is impossible.”

“Three doctors said I would never make it. I shouldn’t do it. I would die,” Hitchcock said. “But it was my dream, and I wanted to do it.”

Never much of a runner –“I was overweight,” he said – Hitchcock trained 17 months for his now-legendary run. Not even a heart attack halfway through his preparation could stop him.

His 2,000-plus-mile journey was full of ups and downs, he told Carl Ben Eielson students. He was buoyed by crowds in East St. Louis, Ill., where children ran alongside him and parents cheered him on from their steps. But his crew headed back for home after just a month in, leaving Hitchcock and his oldest son alone.

“The three words that kept me going are: ‘Nothing is impossible,’ ” he said.

Hitchcock spent three months in the hospital after making it to Atlanta, the site of the 1996 Olympic Games. He spent another six months in outpatient treatment.

Julie Costello, a sixth-grade social studies teacher, said she knew she wanted to bring Hitchcock to the school after meeting him. She told hundreds of students assembled in the gymnasium that he could “help you be the kind of person that makes a difference of the world.”

Seventh-grader Paige Kosienski said Hitchcock’s story was both unbelievable and uplifting.

“Everyone needs something like that every once in a while,” she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kyle Potter at (701) 241-5502