Galway runner chronicles family’s cross-country journey in ‘Better Together’

Author Shaun Evans and his book; Top right: Shaun Evans and his son Shamus on their cross country trip in 2015
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Author Shaun Evans and his book; Top right: Shaun Evans and his son Shamus on their cross country trip in 2015

GALWAY – As he pounded the pavement training for ultramarathons and the U.S. Olympic Trials, Galway runner and physical therapist Shaun Evans thought he had big goals.

Then his son Shamus raised the bar. Shamus, who has cerebral palsy, pitched the idea of a 3,200-some-mile trek across the United States, with Evans running and Shamus in a running chariot. Along the way, they’d donate running chariots to kids who needed them, working with the national nonprofit Ainsley’s Angels.

“I thought that I was setting big dreams for myself,” Evans remarked. “Shamus stepped in and came up with something bigger than I ever would have thought was humanly possible.”

Evans chronicles the 2015 journey in his book “Better Together,” published this summer. The narrative also delves into Evans’ childhood, his years at Notre Dame College and later starting a family with his wife Nichole. Vignettes on running are woven throughout.

The Open Door Bookstore in Schenectady will host a book signing with Evans from noon-1:30 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 25.

Evans ran track in high school but it wasn’t until graduate school that he picked up distance running. He ran the Philadelphia marathon on a whim and came just shy of qualifying for the Boston Marathon.

“Then I started to get a little more serious about it and set my goals, not only running the Boston Marathon, which I have done eight times but trying to qualify for the Olympic Trials,” Evans said.

He came within four minutes of qualifying and for a time, his running career was sidelined by a series of injuries.

Amidst all this, Shamus was born in 2006 and a year later was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, which affects his ability to walk. For the first few years of Shamus’ life, Evans took him out for runs in a baby jogger. As Shamus outgrew that, they switched to a Freedom Push Chair, which they got with help from Ainsley’s Angels. The organization supplies racing wheelchairs to kids who need them and promotes a sense of inclusion many disabled kids never experience.

“Once he got those wheels, he decided that he wanted to try and run a race with me,” Evans said.

They started with the Firecracker 4 in Saratoga and not too long after that ran their first ultramarathon, which was a closed-course, six-hour timed event.

“I figured Shamus would get bored of running in circles after a few minutes,” Evans said.

Instead, Shamus was hooked. Throughout the race, he recounted to Evans one of the books in the “Harry Potter” series, which he’d been reading at the time and the father-son duo won the race, completing more than 45 miles.

While Evans was patting himself on the back for the win, Shamus, who was 7 years old at the time, was thinking of going much farther.

He brought up the idea of a summer cross-country run and Shaun and Nichole set the wheels in motion.

“We had about 18 months to train and fundraise and plan logistics. We needed every second of that 18 months,” Evans said.

Evans worked with Shamus to figure out the route they’d take and how many miles they’d have to put in each day to make it happen in one summer. Nichole and the Evanses’ younger son, Simon, planned to follow along and act as pit crew, helping Evans keep hydrated and fed, no easy feat when he’d burn thousands of calories per day.

The family also worked to raise more than $100,000 and donate a running chariot to a child in each of the states they’d pass through.

They started the trip by dipping Shamus’ toes into the ocean off the coast of Seattle. The first half of the trip was scenic as they racked up miles through the Cascade Mountains, the Continental Divide and Mount Rushmore.

“Then it starts to turn into cornfields in Iowa. That lasted for a long time,” Evans said.

As they pushed through dozens of sometimes dreary miles, Shaun and Shamus found inspiration in the people they met along the way. Many knew of the family’s journey and brought them water or snacks.

“All the people that helped us along the way really restored our faith in humanity,” Evans said. “There’s so many good people out there that wanted to be part of what we were doing.”

By the time they’d finished – capping the journey off by dipping Shamus’ toes into the Atlantic Ocean – they’d donated 35 running chariots.

Shamus wasn’t done dreaming though. Just two years later, the duo ran the length of the Mississippi River (around 1,700 miles), gifting running chairs and promoting the work that Ainsley’s Angels does along the way.

With their second major journey in the books, Evans focused on a new challenge.

“We’d run into people and say, ‘Shaun, you gotta write a book about all you guys have done,’” Evans said.

Writing had long been something Evans enjoyed doing so he put pen to paper a few years ago and wrote “Better Together: A Memoir of Persistence, Inclusion, and a Family’s Power to Overcome.”

The chapters are short, clocking in at around five or six pages and the entire book comes in just over 300 pages. It was published by Mascot Books.

Shamus hopes to write a follow-up book with Evans, telling the story of other feats the family has accomplished since their cross-country run.

“It’s just a matter of carving out the time to do it,” Evans said with a laugh.

For more information on the book signing visit opendoor-bookstore.com.

Categories: Life and Arts, Life and Arts, Saratoga County

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