Most of us would think twice about lifting a 25-pound exercise ball, much less carrying it further than across the room. Richard Sexton has carried one for an entire marathon — and now plans to do it again for the equivalent of 28 marathons over 30 days! What drives a successful business executive to perform such a feat?
“This is a great opportunity to do something really big — bucket list-type big,” says Sexton. By BIG, he means doing something outrageous to raise money and awareness for a great cause. His excursion, a trek from the North Carolina border near Murphy to Myrtle Beach, will support the Myrtle Beach-based nonprofit CAN — Champion Autism Network. Sexton met its founder, Becky Large, at a furniture industry conference in Boston years ago, and was impressed by her energy and positive attitude. He wants to match that inspiration with the Carolinas Can Ruck for Autism challenge — a multi-marathon journey with a purpose.
“At the end of the day, what is it all for?” remarks Sexton about his plans. “How do you contribute to the general welfare?”
Sexton knows his share of success in business already. His art and furniture gallery in Concord, Carolina Rustica, jumped into internet sales early in the game in 1998, and grew into a $10 million company before Sexton sold it in 2012. From there he launched a digital marketing agency while earning his credentials as a substitute teacher, often working with special needs children in Cabarrus County schools.
In 2016, Sexton carried his 25-pound slam ball, nicknamed “Slappy,” on his back for the entire Myrtle Beach Marathon to raise awareness for CAN, stopping to do a slam ball press at every mile. This time, he will carry Slappy in a rucksack (military backpack) and skip the extra push-ups to stay focused on the long journey. Slappy’s name, says Sexton, comes from the feeling of being totally spent — or “slap happy.”
“There’s definitely going to be some ugly parts, but I’m prepared mentally for it,” says Sexton. To put it bluntly, “Every endurance athlete knows about ‘the suck.’ You gotta let it happen, then pull yourself out of it. It’s all mental.”
His mental toughness is borne out of seeing the positive way families with children on the autism spectrum approach each day and carry on with energy. Slappy represents that extra load carried each day by those with autism and their families and caretakers. Yet he refuses to call that load a “burden,” instead using the word “challenge.”
“They are really amazing how they come in every day with a positive attitude,” says Sexton. “Their challenge is very different for them than for us.”
Sexton started training with Slappy 5 years ago, before the aforementioned marathon. He always had it in the back of his mind to do it again — but bigger. But a job change a year ago and a serious bout with COVID in June solidified his resolve to make it happen. He’s been training for 8 months now, and that, in itself, was a journey. He worked with a coach to increase his endurance incrementally.
“We built up the distance with the slam ball first, a few times a week,” he says. “Then we compressed the days together, until I could do a couple days in row. We’d spike it up, and back off, and then do it again a little higher.”
His journey starts on Wednesday, April 28, at the NC border, very near where North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia meet. His goal is to run a marathon every day, sometimes starting each day at the end of the day’s route and doubling back to hotels he stayed at the night before. The goal is to run the distance every day with Slappy, even if the segments aren’t end to end. The journey winds through Charlotte the weekend of May 8-9 — Mothers Day — where he’ll “camp” at home.
Sexton also has a built-in break in the middle of the route, to drive home and see his daughter’s dance recital. (Some things you can’t miss!) From there, it’s on to his final destination at Surfside Beach, SC, on May 26 — in time for his 25th wedding anniversary. He’s researched Google Street View for the entire route, to make sure roads are safe for runners. Volunteers will trade off driving support vans along the route to stay close and help him stay focused.
“They’re meeting me halfway through every day to have a real lunch,” says Sexton. “Nutrition is going to be a challenge — I need 5-6,000 calories every day.” Gulp.
He credits sponsors for helping him get started, and his F3 workout partners for continued motivation. He says he’s “tired of training” and just wants to hit the road and meet people to share his purpose.
“The awesome part will be the people — meeting them and sharing about autism sensitivity and awareness,” he says, noting he has a “ton” of cards to give out. “In that way, we’ve already helped a little.” Sexton has already raised $10,000 of his $50,000 goal.
“It’s really humbling,” he says. “People have been really generous.”
But he and Slappy have a long way to go, though, to reach his destination and his financial goals. He knows it will be worth it, but getting there is the challenge. How will he do it?
“Step by step,” he says.
For more details on Richard’s journey or to follow his route, look him up here: