Single page view By Wayne Drehs

GRANITE CITY, Ill. – His back aching, his knees throbbing, his body unable to stand any longer, the pudgy, white-haired 56-year-old needs to sit down.

"Maaaam?" he says to the woman leaning on the empty bar stool. "Are you using that chair?"

A pause.

Bill Holden
Bill Holden is walking across America, on a quest to raise money to fight juvenile diabetes.

"I just walked 1,800 miles and could really use a place to sit."

The woman laughs. "And I thought my Honda got great gas mileage," she deadpans. But this is no joke. The man who can barely walk across the room, the man who needs to lean on the bar just so he can stand, has indeed used his feet to get here.

From Arizona.

"My name is Bill Holden," he says, extending one hand while balancing himself with the other. "I'm walking across America to raise money for juvenile diabetes."

The seat's his.

An hour later, a waiter takes Holden's dinner order. "Seth," Holden says softly after eyeing the teenager's name tag, "you tell the chef that you've got a guy out here that just walked 1,800 miles and he wants the biggest plate of spaghetti and meatballs he's ever seen."

"Yes sir," the kid replies.

So this is how you get by. This is how you leave family, friends and normalcy behind, jam your life into a duffel bag and live on the road – literally – for six months. This is how you spend half a year by yourself, crossing the country step by step, on a pair of knees devoid of cartilage, searching for your soul. Strangers become friends. The unfamiliar becomes familiar. And your entire view of the world is refreshed.

"It's like sitting in an empty theater," Holden said. "And every day a new cast of characters comes across the stage to perform for me. You never know who it's going to be, what they're going to say, but it's always a great show.

This Old Cub ESPN Motion
"It's renewed my spark in life."

It's beyond comprehension. Walk outside, watch the ground pass under your feet and imagine heading for the next town, the next state. Imagine walking over mountains, across rivers, around lakes. Imagine doing it in snowstorms, thunderstorms and sweaty 95-degree heat. Then imagine doing it by yourself, your only human contact coming with strangers who don't believe where you've been and can't grasp where you're going.

This has been the life of Bill Holden since Jan. 11, when, motivated by the story of Ron Santo, he hopped on a highway in Prescott Valley, Ariz., and headed for Wrigley Field with two goals: to raise $250,000 for juvenile diabetes and to arrive in time for the Cubs' July 1 game against the Nationals. (Today, Monday, June 6, he's in Springfield, IL, on his way to Lincoln, IL. About 240 miles still to go.)

Until he gets to the Friendly Confines, the endearing Irishman with a deep voice, puffy red cheeks and an infectious sense of humor is a modern-day nomad. Unemployed, divorced with two grown kids, he wakes up each morning with a singular goal: to make it to the next dot on his map.

"People tell me it's like Forrest Gump," Holden says. "But that's a load of crap; this is the real thing. I look at a map and it's like, 'I actually walked all that?'"


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