21st Century Johnny Appleseed
Henry Sanchez Pardo arrived in Los Angeles late last year with no belongings, no shoes, and few connections. Coming from Colombia, he barely spoke English. Somehow, he struck up a relationship with the HR department of a large Hispanic department store, not because he was looking for a job, or even because he wanted to stay in LA. Pardo was trying to run barefoot to Anchorage, Alaska, and he needed some help.
Pardo's journey began in 2008, when he left his family and teaching job in Bogota, en route to Patagonia where he would begin his run. The idea hatched as a way of spreading environmental awareness in the Americas, but along the way, Pardo began helping to plant trees (by working with the Arbor Day Foundation, CONAFOR, and Urban Corps he says he has helped plant over 7 million) and became a full-fledged marathoner, participating in events all over South America.
The trek wasn't too bad initially — Pardo got a lot of support from local fire stations and boy scouts, small town organizations that were more than willing to take him in and feed him for a few nights while he prepared for the next leg of his over 10,000-mile journey. He got all the way to the border of the U.S. in two years when he began to encounter problems.
"It's been harder since he got to the U.S. Here he has found the least support," Ervin — an HR recruiter for the Hispanic department store and Pardo's translator — told me. Beyond not speaking English, apparently running barefoot between major urban municipalities is a bit of a stretch. So Pardo had to travel on public transportation between San Diego and LA, which "really pained" him.
Once Pardo arrived in LA, Ervin's HR department "kind of adopted" him, supplying him with food and shelter in exchange for offering up his story as motivation for employees. He has lived in LA for the past few months, gearing up for his next leg, which will take him to San Francisco.
Most recently, he ran the Los Angeles Marathon, barefoot as always, but this time with a tree strapped to his back. HR was cheering him on the entire way.
Pardo says he hopes to arrive in Anchorage by the summer of 2013, despite the challenges he has faced in the U.S. When asked if at any point he would turn back towards Colombia, Henry replied quickly and forcefully: "Never, never, never ever."
--Justin Cohn / images courtesy of Henry Sanchez Pardo