On August 31, Boston College will begin a historic semester; a semester rolled out in the era of COVID-19, equipped for these exceptional times with a blend of hybrid, online, and in-person classes, as well as new protocols surrounding everything from food to friends. Students living in Chestnut Hill this fall are beginning to make their way back to campus, loading cars and packing suitcases. Gordon Wayne, an incoming sophomore transfer student, is walking.
I met Wayne in the teeny-tiny town of Hope, New Jersey, the morning after he hit the halfway mark of his 550-mile route. At this point, nine days in, he reports that he has covered about 255 miles. Just a month ago, the idea hadn’t even been formed.
“I wanted to do something for [homelessness], something that would bring attention to it. I thought walking would be kind of symbolic because… my road to BC was very long and complicated. So, I thought the two could tie-in together pretty well. That was two-and-a-half weeks ago,” Wayne reflects on the very recent decision to make his college road trip by foot.
Incredulous, and trying to imagine a full day of walking (let alone two weeks worth), I asked Wayne to describe a typical day on the road. “So normally,” He began with a grin, “I put my left foot on the ground, and then after that, I send my right leg out and then I put my right foot on the ground… and then I do the same thing over and over.”
Wayne created a GoFundMe on August 8, titled, “Assist People Climbing Out of Homelessness,” with the proceeds set to go to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. On the same day, he posted on Instagram to explain his plan. The starting point was his hometown in Central Virginia. and the finish line? BC.
“When I came up with the idea, no one supported it. They were like, ‘What the hell are you doing? Take the plane.’ I didn’t really care, I decided I was going to walk. I posted it on my Instagram and the BC people liked it, which was kind of surprising,” Wayne says, contemplative as he describes the enthusiasm he has received from people who were previously strangers. “Y’all have no idea who I am so it seems like a cool story to you. It seems impossible, right? I think you all were curious about it. The people who know me were like, ‘You’re not gonna make it.’ But, it’s very possible. Thirty miles a day. Sometimes more, sometimes less. I could get hit, I could get hurt, but I’m not gonna live my life in fear. All that has happened over the last year has made me not really fear anything.”
Wayne makes many references to the past year or so, which, he explains, prompted some accelerated self-growth. “People only change when they’re forced to change, and I was definitely forced to grow up. If I didn’t grow up, I wouldn’t be here,” He says soberly.
After high school, Wayne’s hopes to attend the University of Pittsburgh were shattered when he found himself without a home. Despite the major hurdle of personal homelessness, Wayne attended his local community college, earning a 4.0, and applied to BC soon afterward. At one point, he was living alone in his car, working 60 hours per week, and speaking to few people. This was a dark time, he admits. Then he adds thoughtfully, “My situation wasn’t that bad compared to some of these other people. Not everyone has a car. Or a job. That’s why I didn’t need to train for this or do anything but just go walk.”
That’s true––he didn’t train. The sum total of Wayne’s journey, equating to just shy of 21 marathons, surely requires unparalleled physical and mental strength. Given the small time frame between his moment of inspiration and move-in day, the preparations necessary for even one marathon were not an option for Wayne. He walked eight miles around his hometown as a sort of practice round (a third of his daily goal for the entire two-week walk), and then set out.
Since then, the BC community has prepared to welcome Wayne with open arms. His posts have been showered with comments of support, and his GoFundMe has accumulated upwards of eleven thousand dollars in donations (and counting). On August 17, Fox News interviewed him in York, PA, offering the chance to speak publicly to his cause. Despite this influx of attention, though, Wayne is determined to redirect interest away from himself and toward the tragic issue of widespread homelessness.
“First of all, this is not about me at all. I don’t want people to think that this journey is about me because it’s not. It’s about y’all, and about the people that we are working together to help. I’m just the person that is bringing awareness to it. I’m just a normal guy,” He says modestly.
Wayne is documenting his journey through livestreams on Instagram, Snapchat stories, and periodic photo series which capture his progress as well as the miles left to cover. Always open and honest, Wayne doesn’t hold back when describing his experiences, writing candidly about his level of motivation and the obstacles he has encountered. Casualties, including extreme blisters on the soles of his feet and a fraying walking stick from his grandfather, have also been included.
When asked about his biggest takeaway so far, Wayne responds, “The support has been the greatest part about this journey. I didn’t really plan this out or anything so I had no expectations, but that has been—outside of the money that’s been raised—that has been the most important part. People have been very kind to me, and I really appreciate that. I think that’s been more amazing than the journey itself, honestly. All I’ve done is walk, I haven’t really done anything that noteworthy. We walk every day.” He turns to me and smiles.