Patrick Finley: He's going the distance, and more, for Tucson refugees

2013-04-11T00:00:00Z 2014-07-08T15:32:19Z Patrick Finley: He's going the distance, and more, for Tucson refugeesPatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
April 11, 2013 12:00 am  • 

I would rather swim to Alcatraz in a hamburger wetsuit than do what Jerry Schuster is doing Monday.

"Most people feel that way," he said. "You're not alone."

Starting at 9 a.m. Monday, the 58-year-old will begin his own 48-hour ultramarathon, running as many half-mile laps as he can around the UA mall for two days straight.

To keep his mind sharp, he'll ponder math theorems from grad-level books he reads - for fun! - at home.

He'll stop to eat and use the bathroom, but doesn't plan on sleeping.

He'll drink a mix of dextrose and water - essentially, the contents of an IV bag.

Between the running, math and sleep deprivation, I'd rather be an elephant's pedicurist.

I asked Schuster, a Tucson Unified School District substitute teacher, if people thought he was crazy.

"I think I'm nuts," he said. "Other people don't like to say it, so I say it for them.

"Sometimes in the middle of the race, especially when it's dark, I'll say, 'What the hell am I doing?'"

What he's doing - in addition to being a far braver man than I - is for a good cause.

In its third year, Schuster's ultramarathon around the mall raises money, and awareness, for the Arizona Resource Connection.

The 5-year-old, student-run club helps Southern Arizona refugees.

"It's a wacky event," said Cindi Gilliland, a senior lecturer at the UA's Eller College of Management and the club's faculty advisor. "But it's an interesting way to catch people's attention as they're walking across the mall."

The club, made up mostly of Eller students, helps the 10,000 or so refugees in Southern Arizona find jobs and prepare for interviews.

From Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Sudan, Congo and elsewhere, the legal U.S. residents have spent an average of a decade in camps after conflict or genocide in their homelands.

"They're people," Gilliland said, "who have escaped from hell."

The club hopes to raise $2,500 from pledges, donations and sponsorships, by the time the ultramarathon ends at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

The fundraiser was actually Schuster's idea, fostered when he first saw the club at a Fort Lowell Park refugee fair a few years back.

Working for TUSD - mostly at his alma mater, Tucson High - Schuster had helped teach refugees for years.

He has three degrees from the UA - in math, in computer science and an MBA from Eller - and thought the fundraiser was a good fit.

"The main focus is the cause," he said. "Whatever miles I'll do is for the cause."

He doesn't want to state his goals publicly, but, at 0.54 miles per lap, Schuster could run more than 200 miles over the two days.

In addition to telling students about refugees, volunteers will count his laps, hand water out to him and make sure no one locks the bathroom in the middle of the night.

If he needs a catnap - "I doubt that'll happen," he said - Schuster can run home.

He lives near campus, and is so engrained in his neighborhood that he often jogs past every single school he's ever attended on the same route.

On Friday, he attempted to run 12 hours straight around Tucson High to benefit Special Olympics, but the race was shut down early when neighbors complained.

He started running long distances in his late 20s, when he noticed that, while he wasn't the fastest marathoner, he always had "some gas left in the tank" at the end.

Schuster, who carries 2 1/2 percent body fat, has done dozens of ultramarathons since. He's gotten better with age, the result of everything from "changing mitochondrial structures" to increased patience.

He has taught himself mind tricks to deal with the long hours - namely, pondering his favorite teaching subject, math.

"I'll try to prove this theorem in my head," he said. "Of course, once I get sleep deprivation, it might not be so clear."

He'll keep running, though.

"The only goal I have," he said, "is to keep going as much as I can, for as long as I can."

On StarNet: Send your twitter photos of Schuster running the UA campus on Monday by using #runningman and join StarNet's live blog at:

live.azstarnet.com

Contact reporter Patrick Finley at pfinley@azstarnet.com or 573-4145. On Twitter @PatrickFinley

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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