Roy Wiegand knew that, when he made his 24-hour run recently, he’d turn some heads. And that was partially by design.
“It intrigues people, like why would anybody go run a hundred miles by themselves,” he said before his run. “This is why, because of the Navajo Water Project … It gets the conversation started.”
Wiegand, a Burbank resident and ultramarathon runner, made the solo trek from Ventura to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena Aug. 8 and 9, stopping only for brief periods. Besides loving the challenge of the run, he also did it to raise money for the Navajo Water Project, which provides running water to families living on the tribe’s reservation, which includes parts of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico.
More than 30% of Navajo families don’t have a tap or toilet at home, according to DigDeep, a nonprofit that launched the Navajo Water Project. Many families have to haul water from a public source away from their homes.
Wiegand was looking to raise $4,500, enough for a running water and solar power system for one Navajo family. He surpassed that goal before his run even began, and as donations continued to trickle in, he eventually collected more than twice his goal.
Some people whom Wiegand met during the run, once they learned why he was running, even donated on the spot, he said.
“I’m surprised, with everything going on with the pandemic, that people are being so generous,” he said. “I would encourage people, if their heart is moved or if they’re inspired, don’t stop with my goal. If they want to give more, there’s lots of Navajo homes that need help.”
Wiegand also points out that running water is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic, considering the emphasis placed on hand-washing.
And the Navajo Nation has been hit hard by the coronavirus. With an estimated 2010 population of 173,667 and 9,315 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of early this month, the Navajo Nation has a staggering infection rate of 5.3%, though that figure does not take into account people who recovered from the virus.
For comparison, using population reports for the same year, Los Angeles County had an infection rate of about 2%, while New York City had a rate of 2.7%.
The Navajo Nation also reported 473 deaths as of early this month .
“This is just an incredibly timely time to give…with what’s going on in the Navajo Nation,” Wiegand said in a recent phone interview. “I think that’s the bottom line for me, as far as the overall message of why this is such an urgent and huge need, is what’s going on now with the virus.”
This is Wiegand’s ninth year of running for fundraising. He previously ran the Badwater Marathon, a Death Valley course marketed as the “World’s Toughest Race,” to raise money for clean water systems in Ethiopia. He also gathered donations for the Michael Hoefflin Foundation, which gives financial and emotional support to families of children diagnosed with cancer, after a child who had been in the Boy Scouts with his son died of the disease.
The idea to run for nonprofits came after Wiegand decided that marathons weren’t scratching the itch for the lengthy courses he wanted to run. But as a musician who works weekends, he often couldn’t make it to organized races.
“I started [thinking], ‘Well, what if I just run my own thing and then raised some money for a great cause at the same time?’” he said. “So I have the personal challenge, but yet I can work it around my schedule a little bit better … And at the same time it’s way bigger than me.”
The trip from Ventura to Pasadena was about 83 miles, Wiegand said, and was followed by a few hours of laps around the Rose Bowl Stadium.
Wiegand’s wife followed him in a car with food while he ran, he explained, and some friends were around to cheer him on, particularly during the night hours when he was starting to feel tired. His daughter also kept up with him for some of the distance, completing her first half-marathon as they ran together.
But for Wiegand, there was little time for rest, even as he ran the length of several marathons. He said he sat down a few times and once took a power nap. But resting can be dangerous, he explained — stop for more than maybe 15 minutes, and it’s hard to get started again.
“There’s been some years where I’ve hardly really sat down,” Wiegand said. “A cause like this, it totally motivates me. I’m way into it.”
If the coronavirus isn’t an issue next year, Wiegand wants to run — and maybe bike — a multiday course from the L.A. area to the Navajo Nation to raise awareness and funds for the tribe.
“I think we’re very privileged,” he said. “I hope that the run inspires people to think and learn about what our fellow Americans are going through, and that the water poverty in places like the Navajo Nation will inspire them to help.”
For more information about the Navajo Water Project or to donate to Wiegand’s fundraiser, visit digdeep.funraise.org/fundraiser/roy-wiegand.