Off to Wrigley: Bill Holden began his walk to Chicago Tuesday from Luke Steege's class at the high school.
Spend an hour talking with him, and you've got the score. This is a man, a 56-year-old former Cub farmhand walk-on, who's just days away from taking the walk of his lifetime. Or, as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) is dedicating his mission, "a Walk of Hope."
A walk … yes, WALK … from Prescott Valley to Chicago. A man alone covering more than 2,000 miles with just the Reeboks on his feet, the clothes on his back, the Cub cap atop his head and more compassion in his heart than could fill a hundred Wrigley Fields.
On Jan. 9, Holden set out from his Prescott Valley home and started walking. He spent the first two days making his way through Mayer and then Camp Verde, from where he symbolically began his march toward raising money and awareness for JDRF.
And he won't stop. Either until research uncovers a cure, or until June 30, his targeted finish date, which concludes with Holden walking through the ticket gate and taking in his own slice of heaven – an afternoon Cub game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field.
If you think he's nuts, he is. What drives him out of his mind most, in fact, are the same things that will urge on each of his steps over the next six months.
Finding a cure.
Getting back to Wrigleyville.
And having the time of his life doing both.
"He's got this incredible physical stamina, and I'm really energized by it," said Holden's longtime friend Greg Reisig. "I think he's just real determined. Once he gets determined to do something he always follows through. So I have no doubt that he'll make this full trip."
Both Holden and Reisig have been down this road before. Literally.
This will be Holden's fourth such excursion since 1968, albeit the most daring and certainly the most beneficial.
A passionate Southern Illinois University alumni, Holden first set out in '68 to raise money for the USO and soldiers stationed in Vietnam. He walked 330 miles from the SIU campus in Carbondale, Ill., to Chicago with a final stop at the office of then-Mayer Richard Daley.
A year later, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of SIU, Holden and his cohorts this time took aim at a bike ride. Starting again at the Carbondale campus, the foursome biked some 983 miles to Washington, D.C.
It took 11 days. Not bad, considering Holden had never so much as been on a 10-speed bike before.
His causes, though, haven't always been simply to raise money or awareness. In 2000, while teaching in Tucson, Holden biked some 2,000 miles to Chicago. The impetus this time? He'd come into coveted tickets for a crosstown series between his beloved Cubs and the White Sox. For Holden, it was as good a reason as any to start biking. Twenty-eight days later, he was in his seats, reaping the journey's reward.
This week, Holden takes off on his most grand attempt yet, and likely his last, certainly on the extreme scale of cross-country walking.
Inspired as much by Ron Santo and the Cub great's tireless work benefiting JDRF, as by his former Native American students on the Sacaton reservation in Arizona stricken by an outbreak of diabetes, the public school teacher for 32 years will settle for nothing less than a successful journey on his Walk of Hope.
"I'll make it. I couldn't come back here if I don't make it. I can't go to Chicago if I don't make it. And I certainly can't go to Carbondale if I don't make it. I gotta make it!," he assured.