University of Richmond graduate Zoe Romano will run all 2,088 miles of the mountainous Tour de France bicycle route this summer, with the goal of finishing one day ahead of the cyclists.
Romano, who graduated in 2009, plans to begin her run May 18 and finish July 20 at a pace of 30 miles per day, she said.
The run is a fundraiser for an organization in Richmond, World Pediatric Project (WPP), which provides medical care for children in Central America and the Caribbean, and in critical cases, brings them to the U.S. for immediate treatment, Romano said.
This isn't the first time that Romano has run thousands of miles to raise money for charity. In 2011, she ran across the continental U.S. to raise $17,000 for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. She began in Huntington Beach, Calif., in January and finished in Charleston, S.C., in June, running 25 miles a day for six days a week, while pushing 70 pounds of supplies in a baby stroller, she said.
Yet, when Romano first told her family about her plans for this summer, everyone was speechless, said her younger sister Rosa Romano, a senior at Richmond.
Zoe had originally planned to run across Iceland, but Rosa said Zoe had changed her mind because she had wanted to do something that would truly shock people.
Women aren't allowed to compete in the Tour de France, and Zoe said she thought she was making a powerful statement as a female attempting to complete the route on foot.
In the wake of the scandal in which seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong was stripped of his wins for using performance-enhancing drugs, Zoe said she thought that she was also proving it was possible for ordinary people to complete the same grueling athletic competitions as professional athletes, without the drugs.
"I'm not an extraordinary athlete," she said. "I'm not winning races in the Olympics. I'm hoping that on some level people will see what I'm doing in comparison on a route where so far only elite, sometimes doping, male athletes have competed."
Zoe's love for running began after her first year of college, she said. Although she had always been athletic and played team sports - including club soccer at Richmond - she wasn't a runner.
The summer following Zoe's first year, she went on a backpacking trip through Europe with a friend, and because the two did not have enough time to see everything they wanted to in every city, they started running between sites, she said. When she returned to her native Maine, she continued running, and her passion has only grown since.
Zoe inspired Rosa to start running, and they plan to run the Ukrop's Monument Avenue 10K together, she said.
"The ideal day for Zoe is a day of running," Rosa said. "She also realizes that there is a way for other people to benefit from her love of running."
It has been more than a year since Zoe finished her run across the U.S., and Rosa said in that time she had forgotten how amazing her sister was. But when Zoe told Rosa she was planning to run the Tour de France, she was reminded all over again, she said.
Zoe said she had taken one day off in the beginning of her run from California because she had suffered tendonitis in her Achilles, and had walked one day because she pulled her hamstring playing soccer with some children in New Mexico.
She said she anticipated having challenges with her Achilles on the Tour, but was preparing her tendon by doing daily strengthening exercises.
Zoe's family members have been with her every step of her travels, even if not physically. While training for her run across the U.S., she started writing her blog, "Zoe Goes Running," about the training process leading up to departure and the daily adventures she had on the road, she said.
She wanted to share the journey with those who had helped to make it possible: friends, family, the hosts she stayed with along the trip, other people she met along the way and children from the Boys and Girls Clubs, she said.
The story of Zoe's U.S. run was also made into a short documentary titled "Street Dreams," created by her boyfriend Alexander Kreher. Kreher was with Zoe for 10 days of the run, but will be with her and filming the entire time in France, she said.
"We both have this philosophy that we want to find the best in ourselves," Zoe said, "and find what our passions are, and use that to go explore or go discover new communities."
Their goal is to document their endeavors in different communities, whether across the United States or in another country like France, and share it with their community in Richmond to create a cycle of motivation to do better in the world, she said.
Zoe said she was looking forward to immersing herself in French culture as much as to the run itself.
"I have no idea what France has in store for me," she said, "but I'm hoping that we'll also connect with local hosts and they'll be open to sharing their lives and their stories with us, as much as we are open to sharing our story with them."
Part of the reason Zoe chose WPP is that it aligns with her and Kreher's philosophy and is a local organization with an international focus, she said.
WPP not only goes to developing countries and provides medical care, but also provides solutions to the original problems that have caused many children to need medical attention, she said.
In Belize, many children are born with birth defects because of a lack of prenatal care and vitamins, Zoe said. WPP has been working with the Belizean government and local farmers to initiate a prevention campaign that would fortify the rice they grow with folic acid and iron, she said.
"World Pediatric [Project] is not necessarily a band-aid organization," she said. "It's really giving its partner countries more sustainable health care."
When Zoe came to Jennifer Curtis, a spokeswoman for WPP, about six weeks ago, they talked about how to create awareness for the organization and support Zoe in her efforts, Curtis said.
Although it is still early in the fundraising process, now working primarily through social media, the goal is to raise $100,000, four times the amount Zoe had hoped to raise for her U.S. run, Curtis said.
The staff of WPP also plans to help Zoe financially in terms of airfare and lodging, but Curtis said Zoe was going to try to fundraise for many of those expenses on her own.
WPP is a cutting-edge organization, and by doing something unique, Zoe fit with its brand, Curtis said.
"We're very active and energetic," she said. "We're on the ground working hard and it's the same thing with her. She likes to say that moving on her own two feet makes her happy."
To learn more, visit Zoe's blog at zoegoesrunning.wordpress.com. To check out Zoe's running playlist, "like" her Facebook page, "Zoe Goes Running," where she posts weekly music suggestions.
Contact reporter Avery Shackelford at firstname.lastname@example.org