It was the type of morning that we haven’t seen too much this winter—one where the thermometer reads at a frosty 15 degrees and your breath freezes on your scarf in just a few seconds. Jesse VanOsdol, however, strapped on his backpack and waited on the Monon Trail for anyone who might brave the temperatures to join him for the “Walk With Jesse Day” in Carmel, Indiana.
Jesse has been on a cross-country “Step It Up” walk to raise money for the Burn Unit at Riley Hospital for Children and was recently in Carmel on a break halfway through his walk.
Jesse never dreamed that his life would take such a dramatic turn after high school graduation, but before the ink had barely dried on his diploma, he landed in the burn unit at Riley Hospital for Children.
A bonfire accident left Jesse with second and third degree-burns on 15 percent of his body, facing possible skin grafts, and temporarily unable to walk due to burns on both of his lower legs. The first few days are a painful blur in Jesse’s mind, but through the prayers of many people and the wonderful care at Riley, Jesse healed up far faster than anyone expected. He didn’t need skin graft surgery, was released to outpatient care after just one week, and then was cleared to leave for school just three weeks later.
On July 15, 2010, one month after the accident, Jesse left for Universal Technical Institute’s (UTI) automotive training program in Kissimmee, Florida and another three months of training with UTI and Mercedes Benz in Rancho Cucamonga, California. Life was moving at such a fast pace that it took a while to process everything that had happened to him. “Despite how quick everything was moving, I just took on one thing at a time,” Jesse said. “I was really lucky and blessed. I had a lot of support. In some ways I really benefited from the aftermath of being burned. I got closer to family. I learned a lot about myself. I found that God really takes care of you. And the whole walk for Riley came about because of this.”
Toward the end of all his training, Jesse was in a bookstore in California when he started reading a book about hiking across America. He was so captivated by the idea, that he decided he wanted to try the same thing after he completed his training, but he wanted to do it to benefit children who experience the horror of burns. With only about two months to pull everything together, Jesse and his parents, Mark and Jane VanOsdol of Westfield, contacted Riley Children’s Foundation and began making the arrangements. “I was excited because I could put some of my passion for adventure to a good cause,” he said.
Jesse began his walk on November 17, 2011 from Huntington Beach, California and to date has walked over 1,400 miles (averaging about 23 miles per day) through four states: California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Most nights he sleeps in his bivy tent and eats out of his stash of food using a small camp stove. He’s been caught in the December Santa Ana wind storm in the Mojave Desert in California, been tracked for 15 miles by the border police in New Mexico following his boot tracks, been snowed on in the Dragoon Mountain pass in Arizona, and had to scale a 20-foot cliff pulling his cart up behind him after getting off trail. He’s also been given water by strangers in the desert when he was out, mysteriously found the exact gear that he needed in perfect condition lying at the side of a deserted road after his had broke, and witnessed the joy of a homeless man after stumbling across his home under an overpass.
On this recent freezing morning in Carmel, Jesse was waiting for some of his supporters to join him for the walk, hoping to get a chance to meet a few of the people who have thus far helped him raise $8,188 dollars toward his final goal of $15,000. Despite the temperatures, two diehard souls showed up: 11-year old Anna Pictor and her mom Amy Pictor. Anna is in the Girls of Grace group, a BIble study group for 5th grade girls led by Jean Gresham and Maryanne Roush. The group has been a big supporter of Jesse, raising over $300 through a craft and bake sale they held. Anna was excited to get to meet Jesse, walk with him for a cold mile, and hear a little about his journey. “Right away I noticed that Anna is a brave, sweet, outspoken little girl. She has a big heart, and is not afraid to mix with adults,” Jesse laughed.
Jesse hits the trail (destination Jacksonville, Florida) again on February 25, along with his dad who is joining him for a week, picking back up where he left off in Austin, Texas. He’s excited to complete his journey and wants to meet his goal. “I’m hoping if the kids on the burn unit hear about me, that I can be an inspiration to them,” he said. To know there will times in life when you suffer and get knocked down, but that you can get right back up and do bigger things than you imagined.”
Follow Jesse’s journey on his blog: http://stepitupjessevanosdol.wordpress.com/
Donate at Jesse’s First Giving site: http://stepitupjessevanosdol.wordpress.com/