Before she passed away in 2002, Rob Pope’s mother, Cathy, asked him to promise her one thing: Do one thing in his life that would make a difference.
For him, that meant something no one else had ever done before: “There were only a few hundred people that had run across America, but nobody had done the Forrest Gump run. It was a bit of a lightbulb moment.”
In late 2016, the 44-year-old from Liverpool, England, began his quest to run the famous route taken by the lead character, played by Tom Hanks, in the 1994 movie “Forrest Gump.”
He writes about it in the book, “Becoming Forrest – One Man’s Epic Run Across America” (Harper North), out March 7 in paperback.
The journey took Pope through 43 states over 422 days as he crisscrossed the country four times, covering a total of 15,621 miles — or four times the length of the Amazon river.
He also went through 33 pairs of running shoes.
Pope started his run clean-shaven and in a lookalike version of Gump’s famous outfit.Rob Pope/ Instagram
Tom Hanks as Forrest GumpSunset Boulevard
A veterinarian by trade and an experienced marathon runner, Pope began the first leg of his journey in Mobile, Ala., in September 2016, in a bid to raise money for the World Wide For Nature (WWF) and Peace Direct.
He dressed in lookalike versions of the famous plaid shirt, chinos and cap worn by Gump — and, like the character, started out clean-shaven but ended up with a beard every bit as unkempt as the eponymous hero’s.
Inevitably, there were as many twists and turns as a Hollywood script.
A few weeks into the run, Pope tore the quadricep muscle in his left leg. He had been averaging 35-40 miles a day. By the time he reached Memphis, Tennessee, he had slowed to a crawl.
Snaking back and forth across the US, Pope ran through 33 pairs of shoes.Rob Pope/ Instagram
“Yes, I was walking in Memphis,” Pope joked.
He also encountered everything that Mother Nature could throw at him, including blizzards and forest fires. In Alabama, there were temperatures in excess of 100 degrees. “I was changing my shirt maybe four or five times a day,” he recalled. “I would wring my shirt out and there would be half a pint of sweat dripping out.”
And then there was the snow in Death Valley. “That was mad,” Pope said. “It’s the hottest place on the planet and there I was running through it with snow falling all around.”
Pope even ran the Boston Marathon as Gump.Rob Pope/ Instagram
There were moose in Idaho, bears in Montana’s Glacier National Park and dolphins in South Carolina. In Oregon, meanwhile, Pope took part in a 10km race and won, becoming the state champion. At the Boston Marathon, which he also ran in character, he was greeted by cheers of “Run, Forrest Run!” — and, perhaps because of the beard, “Go, Jesus!”
Someone in the crowd even handed him a beer as he approached the 11-mile mark.
“As an experienced runner, I know it’s not really the ideal hydration strategy but I drank it anyway,” said Pope. “And it was a Bud Light so it was more like an isotonic sports drink really.”
Like Hanks as Gump, Pope let his beard grow wild along the journey.Rob Pope/ Instagram
Hanks as GumpParamount
From horn-honkers to well-wishers, from couch-surfing hosts to donut donations, Pope was bowled over by the goodwill he encountered along the way.
“If you believe social media, then the United States is just this hugely polarized country where you’re either on one side or the other,” he said. “I didn’t find that really. I just found people, normal people, who were interested and interesting and just wanted to help and, well, be human.
“It’s like I write: There is just too much kindness in America to fit into a single book.”
Along the route, Pope proposed to his now-wife, Nadine, while their baby daughter watched.Rob Pope/ Instagram
In March 2018, Pope paused his run at the Twin Arrows Trading Post in Arizona to return to England, where his girlfriend, Nadine, was about to give birth to their daughter, Bee.
While home, he still found time to squeeze in three more marathons, including one in London where broke the Guinness World Record for the fastest marathon by a person dressed in a film costume, clocking 2 hours 36 minutes and 28 seconds.
It was previously held by a man who had dressed as Elsa from “Frozen.“
Pope then jetted back to the US to complete the fifth and final leg of his run, from Beaufort, South Carolina, to Monument Valley, Utah, with his fiancée and baby daughter cheering him on.
They were there, too, when he finally reached the end of his journey.
Pope’s book is out now and in paperback on March 7.Rob Pope/ Instagram
Pope, wearing a Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. hat just like Gump, dropped to one knee — “partly out tiredness but mostly out of tradition” — and asked Nadine to marry him. She said yes.
To this day, Pope hasn’t heard from Tom Hanks despite several attempts to make contact.
He’s still got the beard today, although it’s a little more under control than it was. “My wife likes it but only when it doesn’t go beyond a certain length,” Pope said. “She’ll say things like, ‘It’s gone a bit Texas’ now or ‘I preferred it like it was when it was Nevada.'”