Thursday, January 27, 2022

Ultra-marathoner runs backward 100 miles to raise funds for Wilmington youth

Tracy McCullen (right) runs 100 miles backward at the UNCW track, alongside friend and marathoner Tim Hamilton. (Courtesy photo)

WILMINGTON — Wilmington local Tracy McCullen is making a run at improving the Community Boys and Girls Club of Wilmington – and using his unique skills to do so.

On Wednesday, the ultra-athlete completed his second consecutive 100-mile backward run in 48 nonstop hours. The 100 Ultra 4 Kids event raised $100,000 toward the construction of a Track of Optimism and Field of Dreams, an interactive fitness playground for all ages in the Northside community, designed by McCullen.

“I have become more confident in my abilities and increasingly enthusiastic about this project,” McCullen said in a news release.

A decades-long marathoner and landscape designer in Wilmington, McCullen is the only person in the U.S., and the second in the world, to ever run an ultra-marathon backward.

His challenge began Dec. 20 on the track at University of North Carolina. He was joined by fellow marathoners, Charlie Engle – one of three people who have run across the Sahara Desert – and Tim Hamilton, from Without Limits running club. After crossing the finish line Tuesday, McCullen has officially run more than 1,000 miles backward, over the last 12 years of his running career, all for a good cause.

“The Boys and Girls Club is such a valuable organization that instills a feeling of empowerment in our youth that they can persevere and achieve success, while also having a ripple effect that extends to our community and beyond,” McCullen said.

The opening mile of the marathon was a 1-Mile-Backward Challenge, where the public joined to run alongside and help cheer on the three runners. In support, Mayor Bill Saffo joined McCullen and his friends for the final lap.

McCullen was inspired to design the Track of Optimism and Field of Dreams after being hired to design a playground in the Northside neighborhood 13 years ago. That site never came to fruition but spurred McCullen’s interest in developing something for the community. 

The $15-million Optimism Oasis will be constructed in the Northside community near the Community Boys and Girls Club. (Courtesy photo)

The track is a three-dimensional sensory experience to “inspire innovation and success through an active and healthy lifestyle.” It’s part of the overall $15-million Optimism Oasis project, a multi-cultural, multi-generational athletic complex located at the Community Boys and Girls Club, 901 Nixon St. The plan is to break ground by spring 2023.

The 400-meter track, set to open in spring 2025, will incorporate interactive audio and visual components and exhibits fostering the pursuit of dreams and entrepreneurship.

The complex will be open seven days a week to the public once complete

McCullen’s ultimate goal is to raise $1 million toward the project through continuing his annual fundraiser. Funds raised from this year’s event will cover the cost of architecture drawings from Patrick Gallagher & Associates to expand McCullen’s vision.

“I want to help provide young people with the tools to help them reach their full potential and overcome life’s challenges, and for me, running is that mechanism,” McCullen said. “That’s why it’s important to build this facility, not only to promote an active lifestyle, but also to understand the power and beauty of the mind and that making good choices and determination will ultimately lead to success.”

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