Rick Hermelin is just your average 71-year-old on a trans-America trek.
Early on the morning of March 23, if all goes according to plan, the California electronics engineer-turned-massage therapist will pedal away from the main gate of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) at Parris Island, S.C., on the first leg of a 10-state, 2,951-mile crossing of the country. Riding a strange contraption known as an ElliptiGO®, or elliptical bicycle — imagine a piece of exercise equipment that stole a pair of wheels and escaped from a gym — Hermelin hopes to complete his quest in 100 days. That would put him at the main gate of MCRD San Diego by June 30.
But this is no mere look-at-me lark. Along the way, Hermelin will be talking up two noble causes. The first is the benefits of physical fitness, a topic on which the 5-foot-11, 163-pound Hermelin is clearly an expert: Since 1976 he has run 100 marathons, 100 half-marathons and 100 10K races — a grand total of 4,550 miles. (You can almost hear his contemporaries gnashing their teeth when he notes, "I wear the same pants size I did in my early 30s.")
Hermelin's second higher purpose is to raise at least $10,000 for the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, a nonprofit based at Camp Pendleton, Calif., that awards financial grants to wounded and critically ill U.S. service members and their families. His choice of the charity was a natural: Not only is Hermelin a former Marine — he served as an aviation communications technician stateside and in Thailand from 1959 to 1963 — but March 23 will mark the 53rd anniversary of his induction into basic training at MCRD San Diego.
Good job, Marine! But why this particular conveyance?
"When I finished running the San Diego Rock 'n' Roll half-marathon last June 5," says the bubbly, bearded Hermelin, "I promised myself that would be my last official run." (He doesn't volunteer his time, but I found out he completed the 13.1-mile course in a more-than-respectable 2:33:54.) "By then I'd been a runner for 36 years, so I was looking for my next big goal.
"At first I toyed with doing a coast-to-coast trip on foot or running through all 48 state capitals. But that would have taken too long, and torn up my knees. Then, in May, I caught ultramarathoner Dean Karnazes completing a coast-to-coast run in 75 days averaging 42 miles a day on TV. That got me rethinking how I could get from coast to coast, which is something I wanted to do for a long time.”