Anna Judd on her journey. Photo by Miss Robot Photography.
After five months, 17 states, and 3,200 miles, Anna Judd has finally stopped running. The California artist and activist finished a mighty journey on Saturday — completing at least one marathon a day, from California to New York City, all in an effort to raise consciousness about American war veterans and the struggles they face. “I wanted to push myself to my limitations,” she told Yahoo Health by phone just two days before reaching her finish line at Manhattan’s gleaming Freedom Tower. “And I saw part of that as making a difference in the world.”
Along the way, Judd had corporate sponsors, kept up a blog, and ran with thousands of individuals who joined her for segments of her trek — a corn farmer in Louisiana, a jazz singer in Mississippi, and several active-duty intelligence officers in various states were among her running companions. Early on in the journey, she sprained both ankles. Later, her support RV (where she sleeps most nights) was rear-ended by a speeding Porsche that left the car’s driver dead on the scene, sending Judd into a “very dark place” for a while.
“I’ve been told my whole mission is like a deployment,” she said, referring to conversations she’s had with a slew of vets as part of her project — vets like Rodney Borba, who told her about being “a wreck” in Iraq, and Enrico Green, who said he wanted to be seen as just another normal guy, “even though you know you’re not.” Judd collected a dozen interviews with veterans before embarking on her run to create the Face America Project, and will continue now, in collaboration with her friend and cross-country photographer Robot, to create a more in-depth documentary and book about veterans’ issues.
Photo by Miss Robot Photography
But for Judd — a 30-year-old Orange County, California, native who supplemented her painting career with work as a cocktail waitress before setting out across America — neither running nor empathy for veterans were things that came naturally.
In the beginning planning stages of her journey, Judd explained, she had difficulty nailing down one social issue to focus on. “I felt passionate about every cause,” she said. “I wanted to raise awareness for compassion, community, and activism, but that was too broad.” Several friends and acquaintances suggested she focus on veterans. “But I was resistant to that idea,” she admitted, blaming it on “ignorance,” and the fact that the issue seemed so outside of her life experience. “I’m an artist, my friends are artists, and I’m from Southern California. I had just never met many vets before,” Judd said. But she quickly realized that learning could be an invaluable part of the process, explaining, “I decided I would have to educate myself about a community of people I didn’t know much about.”
The more she learned, in fact, the more impassioned she became. “Now I feel like it’s the most important issue. It’s really, really indicative of a lot of U.S. problems — poverty, depression, suicide, the health system,” according to Judd. “We may not all agree with war, but at the end of the day, we all consent to it by living here. And it’s important that we take care of our veterans.”
Many of the problems she connects with veterans’ issues also happen to be difficulties Judd has faced personally — including anxiety and depression — that led her into running in the first place. “Though it’s changed over the course of this trip, running for me started as a way to deal with a lot of my nervous energy,” she said. “Part of it is having these little victories along the way by running longer and faster — you can keep increasing not only your physical ability, but your self-esteem, as well.”
Though she’s often walked during her trek, stopped mid-marathon for a restorative ice bath, or taken a day off here and there to re-energize and refocus, Judd has averaged the length of a regulation full marathon (26.2 miles) or more each day — usually running between 26 and 40 miles per day. Though she’s run at various paces throughout the journey, she recently hit a 9-minute-mile stride. Still, to this day, Judd maintained, “I’ve always sucked at sports.” She started running only in 2010, and soon thereafter ran her first marathon, in Los Angeles, during which, she recalled, “I showed up late, probably hung over, and didn’t get a good time.”
But soon the act of running quickly became meditative for her. And now, since her journey began, she’s found the sport to be a way for people to “bond and connect” with each other. “At this point I’ve run with thousands of people across America, and it’s been life-changing,” she said, noting, “The activism aspect is the most important part for me.” In addition, Judd has raised funds, as well as awareness, by using the app Charity Miles, which turns anyone into a sponsored athlete anytime they go for a bike ride or jog.
She’s not sure how she’ll finance her project from this point on, but determination is on her side. “You need a combination of self-confidence and naiveté to do something as crazy as what I’ve done,” Judd admitted. “It’s been a way of punishing myself, at times, but still having a positive effect. I’m grateful to be an activist — especially in a time that I don’t feel activism is valued.”