Two locals plan an ‘epic trek’ around the county to raise awareness about child hunger
A retired professional wrestler and a doctor of literature may seem like an improbable pair, but life has brought these two together over one common goal: ending child hunger in Santa Cruz County.
The local organization Not on Our Watch: An Epic Trek to End Hunger in Santa Cruz County was created by Chris Danzer, a retired professional wrestler, cancer survivor, local logger and father of two, and 36-year-old, Santa Cruz-raised Jake Thomas, a freelance writer and photographer who holds a doctorate in literature from UC Santa Cruz. The duo has pledged to hike 91 miles in a circuitous route around Santa Cruz County in approximately 36 hours, starting at 3 a.m. on March 1, to raise awareness about child hunger.
According to a 2010 study by the Second Harvest Food Bank (SHFB), child hunger is a growing problem in Santa Cruz County. Approximately 19,000 people receive emergency food assistance from SHFB in any given week, and 45 percent of those served are children.
“It’s a heartbreaker,” Thomas says. “It’s a problem that we hope can and will be solved.”
Danzer, a voluble 41-year old, first introduced himself to the reserved Thomas at a coffee shop one morning last November.
“I’ve been working on a book for a couple of years now,” Danzer says, “and the first thing out of Jake’s mouth is that he has a Ph.D. in literature. I don’t fight things like that. When the energy comes together, it’s got to go somewhere.”
Thomas and Danzer’s caffeinated conversation soon shifted to their mutual concern for children suffering from hunger in Santa Cruz. Thomas first became aware of the problem when photographing a Grind Out Hunger charity event a little over a year ago. Danzer had the idea of walking around a track for 50 hours to raise money for starving kids two years ago, but never acted on it. Thomas brought a fresh perspective to Danzer’s idea, and they pledged to bring a different trek into fruition.
“We decided that we needed to do something huge,” Danzer says. “If you make the statement that you’re going to stop child hunger, you have to do something that shows it’s not just talk. “
The pair has been training since December for the 91-mile continuous journey through forests, over mountains, and down roadways. So far the farthest Danzer and Thomas have hiked is 46 miles in 17 hours, but they continue to increase their thresholds.
“We keep pushing ourselves to failure,” says Thomas, “and then we come back and go farther by a long way. We’ve learned that when you push yourself to failure, growth occurs.”
As part of the organization, the pair urges people to donate to SHFB. They have also have teamed up with iconic local brand O’Neill to sell T-shirts designed by West Cal Clothing, with $10 from each T-shirt sold going to SHFB.
Add a young rapper to the mix, and you have a truly unique effort. Adam Hyman, a.k.a. Grizzly Atoms, grew up hungry in Santa Cruz. Thomas recruited the 24-year-old to write a rap about hunger that resembles 50 Cent’s song “Heat.” The three hope to pitch Hyman’s rap to 50 Cent, who also raises money to fight child hunger.
The duo has dreams of starting their own endowment fund, with a goal of $1 million raised to feed starving children for years to come.
“We really want to focus on taking the business out of this, and just feed the kids,” says Danzer.
He and Thomas have been training and researching for months, but their preparations may not be enough to get them through the physical trials the journey will present. They sought advice from six-time Ironman Triathlon World Champion Mark Allen, but he wasn’t very reassuring.
“Mark Allen is the one that scared me the most,” says Danzer. “Here is a world-class athlete, who gave us some great tips about footwear, but in the end all he could say was ‘good luck.’”
Their commitment to attempting the trek, while knowing full well that they may fail, has led Danzer and Thomas to dub themselves “hunger warriors.”
“When death is going to come before you stop,” says Danzer, “that’s what makes someone a warrior.”
When asked if they truly thought they would make it to the end, Thomas replies with a confident “I do,” but Danzer contemplates the question before answering.
“I’m going at it like a warrior,” Danzer says. “Either they carry me off in an ambulance, or I’m making it.”
Learn more at notonourwatchepictrek.com.