Ann Arbor – James Burns walked 600 miles over five weeks from Philadelphia to Michigan Stadium to honor the memory of a 5-year-old boy he never met.
Burns, 49, was so moved by Chad Carr’s story after seeing an ESPN feature on Chad and his family that aired the morning of the Michigan-Ohio State game, that he immediately knew he had something to do.
“When I saw you on TV,” Burns said Monday to Tammi Carr, Chad’s mother, “I started bawling my eyes out, and I told my wife, “Well, I know what I’m doing now. I’m walking to Michigan for them.’”
Chad was the 5-year old son of Tammi and Jason Carr, a former quarterback at Michigan, and the grandson of former U-M All-American Tom Curtis and of longtime Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr. He died last November from an inoperable brain tumor.
The Carrs created the ChadTough Foundation (ChadTough.org) to raise money for research to cure Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), a tumor located in a small area of the brain stem. The median survival rate is nine months from diagnosis.
Burns, who said he never endured bad weather on his journey, walked to raise awareness for ChadTough and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Burns lives in Souderton, Pa., but began his walk in Philadelphia.
He arrived in Ann Arbor on Thursday, and on Monday he formally met the Carrs at Michigan Stadium.
“I can’t even put into words – it’s been the best experience of my life other than the birth of my children,” Burns told Tammi and Jason. “I’m changed forever. People I don’t even know were picking up hotel tabs for me. I’d sit down to eat and people would hear my story and next thing you know they’re buying my dinner.
“People would say, ‘Why would you do this for a kid you didn’t know?’ And I thought that’s immaterial to me. I want to make sure other kids don’t have this happen to them. I told my one son I could be walking for one of my grandchildren someday, you never know. I don’t think anyone should go at 5 years old. That shouldn’t happen.”
James Burns talks to former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr about training for his 600-mile walk that raised funds and awareness for DIPG. Angelique Chengelis, The Detroit News
Burns said he felt Chad’s presence during his 600-mile walk.
“He was with me every step, I firmly believe that,” Burns said. “I’d talk to him a lot. I’d be in the middle of nowhere, it would be dark, and I’d be like, ‘All right, buddy, help me out here.’ I was just following my GPS and I don’t even know where I was stepping next, and he took care of me every step, and I know he’s going to be part of me forever. It’s just the greatest feeling you have when you go beyond any level you have, thinking, ‘I can’t do this,’ and you keep doing it.”
Tammi Carr presented Burns with a special ChadTough mini helmet and khakis signed by Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh.
He spent some time chatting with Lloyd Carr, who told him, “You send a message all across America.”
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