Riverwest Currents (Photo by Lindsay Nack):
Local resident and endurance runner Samuel “Sam” Huber takes a simple yet ingenious approach to fighting the filth of Riverwest’s streets and sidewalks. Blending his passion for long distance running with a strong desire to positively impact the environment, the Milwaukee runner has transformed himself into a minor superhero, “The Eco-runner.” He doesn’t do it for pay or personal recognition, but just because it’s the right thing to do and there’s nobody else doing it. It’s a style that springs from a personal choice to pick up the trash in his path. Huber’s your average good citizen.
When he’s not teaching elementary children in Grafton, he blogs on Ecology Runner as the Eco- Runner. By all accounts the buzz about his project is big and building every day. Known not only across the nation, “eco-running” is becoming known internationally as a low cost, proactive, world-changing act that almost anybody can do to help their community. And it’s mostly due to Huber’s Eco-Runner blog. During a recent eco-run through Riverwest, Huber and a trailing reporter (desperate to keep pace) collected four full bags of trash. He’s quick to point out that this is still a run and is still done as much for exercise as it is to clear the litter. The experience is invigorating, satisfying and exhausting. The key is to keep pace by scooping up the litter and running all in one pure motion. “I usually pick up what’s along my path, because if you concentrate on every single piece of garbage that’s around you, you’ll never get a run in,” Huber explains.
He admits this isn’t a new concept. Certainly others have done this with the same spirit and seriousness. His point, however, is that by using his blog and inspiring action from a broader audience, he can take some real action to keep the trash from choking the precious natural world he holds dear. “I want people to get inspired to be the eco-runner, eco-walker, eco-cyclist, I don’t care. I’m an eco-runner, that’s how I serve the environment. However you want to do it that’s fine,” Huber declares.
The idea took off much faster than Huber expected: first from an article on Diet-Blog, then on to Reuters, Die Spiegel in Germany, and many other international outlets. His blog has been viewed over 8,500 times since last June, and he’s been featured in a number of online and print periodicals. However, it wasn’t until Christine Flowers-Ewing, the executive director of Keep California Beautiful, told Huber that Eco-Running would be the major theme of the Carlsbad Marathon that he saw his vision materialize. “I’m most proud of reaching the penultimate point. It led to this big organization realizing this is really a great idea and that’s what I was hoping for all along. I was contacted by Keep California Beautiful it was probably one of the coolest moments. They flew me out there and did this entire thing. The Eco-Runner, that was the theme of the race,” Huber said. The event was billed as a huge success and according to his blog, 700 runners signed up to be official Eco-Runner/ Walkers. Huber himself ran a 3:37 ecomarathon while stuffing 28 trash bags on his route. “It was a grassroots type of thing that suddenly became a huge movement. To really have the name and ten thousand people know about it and participate, that was surreal. It reached that level in less than a year,” Huber said.
Closer to home, Huber’s hopes for cleaning up this community rest with a contest he entered through KEEN Footwear. Actually, there are three separate contests: Stand Up, Stand Out, and Stand For, and each is focused in some way on how one person can raise awareness about environmental sustainability through a creative, outdoor, or activist-based idea. Each STAND contest awards one $25,000 grand prize, and 15 runner-up prizes of $5,000 to pursue the plan outlined in their entry. Huber found his kindred connection to the Stand Out contest through his ecorunning experience. According to his entry form Huber’s stated goal is “to transform my community.” The “community” Huber refers to is none other than Riverwest. It’s dirty, he says, but it has amazing potential. The contest required specific details and an itemized budget stating what he plans to tackle and how much he expects to spend. “You walk through Riverwest and there’s shit everywhere. I don’t think people realize the potential they have to make a difference,” Huber said. The projected “Eco-Run Riverwest” Budget entailed a city-wide eco-run beginning in Riverwest and proceeding through Milwaukee. It also includes neighborhood eco-programs, a plan to increase public green space, and improve the place that Huber fondly calls his “second home” – the Riverwest Co-op.
Huber is hoping his vision gets chosen, not only for himself, but for Riverwest. Eco-Running has made believers out of people from coast to coast and across the ocean, and made a simple idea to make the world more beautiful accessible to anybody, just as long as they dare to do.