John Overby is walking to the nation’s capital to raise money for his documentary about people’s struggles to get sober
John Overby spent the last two weeks walking across Wisconsin. This week he’s walking across Illinois and Indiana. Twenty-five miles at a time, the Minnesota man will cross eight states in 54 days.
Right now he’s near Joliet, Ill. Joliet is about 600 miles into a 1,367-mile walk to Washington, D.C. that Overby began in Eden Prairie July 5 in an effort to raise money for a documentary he plans to film that explores alcohol and drug addiction.
Overby depends on his 54-year-old legs to carry him about 25 miles a day, but he also depends on the support of Uptown resident Eric Rech in a little production office near the corner of Hennepin Avenue and 28th Street. That’s where Rech will act as coordinator of the trip; making accommodations, planning routes and soliciting donations.
“If I’m Apollo 11, then he’s Houston control,” said Overby, sitting next to Rech in their Uptown office a few days before beginning the cross-country trek.
The two are trying to raise nearly $800,000 to film a documentary in which they will interview recovering alcoholics in hopes of finding out why some people are successful in getting sober while others fail in their attempts.
Overby will make stops in dozens of small towns during the walk, like Zanesville, Ohio and Shellsburg, Penn. But his journey began much closer to home, in the western Minnesota town of Madison.
A life of dependence
It was in Madison that Overby, when he was 9 or 10, was first introduced to alcohol. Enamored by his grandfather, he decided he wanted to be like him and throw back a shot of vodka. But instead of the typical reaction a kid might give to first trying alcohol, Overby had a different sensation as the alcohol was absorbed into his veins.
“The minute it hit my stomach the world changed for me,” he said. “I felt comfortable in my skin and I absolutely loved alcohol in my body.”
When he was 16, Overby used to drive into South Dakota to buy 3.2 beer and when he turned 18 he started drinking every day. Rarely a day went by in the next 40 years that he didn’t drink himself to the point of passing out.
Overby said he was a high functioning alcoholic. He maintained a 35-year career as a news photographer at stations in Wichita, Kan., and at KMSP, KARE and WFTC. Working in TV allowed him to party after work every night.
But in the summer of 2005 his life came to screeching halt. His second marriage was on the rocks; his job was in jeopardy and a doctor told him he had diabetes.
It was then that he began his recovery. In September he will celebrate five years sober.
Giving away their sobriety
Overby met Rech in recovery. Both men can attest to the daily battle to stay sober.
But they also believe that they need to use their skills and talents to help others kick their dependency problems.
“We got ours,” Rech said of being clean. “And now we have to give our sobriety away to keep it.”
Along with his experience behind the camera, Overby has also made a documentary about life on Lake Blanche in western Minnesota and a video about alcoholism that South Dakota businesses show to their employees.
Rech produces a music show on the Minneapolis Television Network and has a background in technology.
More than just tennis shoes
Overby brought four pairs of shoes on his 57-day walk, but it takes much more than sneakers to march through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Maryland.
Rech planned Overby’s route by using Google maps. Once Google gave him a route, Rech analyzed it and found towns or cities along the way that were about 25 miles apart so Overby could find a lot to park in or hook up with a friend to stay with.
It’s against the law to walk along interstates, so Overby will follow county highways and back roads on his journey.
The team bought a 1979 RV for $4,200. A few days before Overby left he knew only that the vehicle ran, but wasn’t sure how well. He found out three days in, when he updated his Facebook followers (John’s Walk for Recovery) that the RV was “too sick” to make the trip and he would be sleeping in tents or with people he met or knew along the way.
Overby also needed work on his body, so he went to Moe Bodyworks, 3541 Lyndale Ave. S.
Dr. Moe Smith, a chiropractor, said Overby began visiting her office two months before he departed. She said Overby was in much pain and needed lots of work.
For about five hours a week, the staff improved his nutrition, got him on vitamins and supplements, gave him aggressive chiropractic treatment on his back and had a personal trainer work on his muscles.
Smith said Overby was pain-free when he left, but noted that a 1,300-mile walk can cause problems, such as torn ligaments and muscles. Plus, Overby has arthritis in his hips and knees and a herniated disk that could flare up.
But Smith said working on him, which she did at a reduced cost, was worth it because he will send a message to many other recovering alcoholics.
“He’s a good guy doing a good thing, and I think his walk is going to inspire people and bring awareness to addiction. We work a lot with people who are in recovery and what he is doing is a very noble thing.”
To follow John Overby on his trek to Washington, D.C., visit his blog at johnswalkforrecovery.org or join his Facebook group, “John’s Walk for Recovery.” You can also make a donation on his blog to help fund his documentary “The Choosing.”