There's something about when you set a goal — a very high and difficult goal to achieve — and you lose sleep, blood, sweat, toenails and blisters over it. And then you make it; there's no better feeling in the world knowing that you did it for someone else. —Justin Osmond
EPHRAIM — For Justin Osmond, taking the easy way out has never been an option.
The Ephraim, Utah, resident was born with a 90 percent hearing loss, and after more than a decade of speech and listening therapy, he has become an advocate for those with similar challenges. But his fundraising went to a whole different level in May when he decided to run from his home to St. George — 250 miles — to supply hearing aids to 25 deaf children.
“I’m not really a runner,” said a straight-faced Osmond. And yet, the "run of his life," as he described it, would make plenty of Olympic runners gawk.
Osmond’s love for helping others with similar challenges started at a young age. He wasn’t diagnosed with a hearing loss until the age of 2, so for the first two years of his life, his world was completely mute.
When he got hearing aids, it made life even tougher — he was two years behind all of his peers. But looking back on those years helped him develop a sense of compassion toward kids who struggle with similar issues.
“During middle school and the beginning of high school, I had a really hard time fitting in,” recalled Osmond. “The hearing aids were big and bulky. I had a hard time accepting myself. It was very, very tough to feel connected with my classmates and my teachers. I felt isolated and disconnected.
“ Looking back now, I’m like, ‘wow, I did it.' I see these other deaf kids and I know what they’re going through because I've been there. I always feel like ‘man, I wish I could help them’ so that they don’t have to go through what I went through.”
That is what inspired Justin to found the Olive Osmond Hearing Fund, named for his late grandmother, and The Hearing Fund UK, to help children throughout Europe.
But when Osmond became serious about long-distance running around four years ago, he tried to think of a way to connect his two passions: running and helping deaf kids. Thus, Justin’s “Run 4 Hearing” took flight — but not without some challenges.
His original plan was to run from Logan to St. George, a 400-mile trip, but after talking to his wife and a few professional runners, shortening the run to 250 miles seemed to be in Osmond’s best interest.
“I was kind of bummed about it at first,” said Osmond. “I wanted to run the whole state (from Logan to St. George). But I was like, ‘you know what, I’ll work really hard for six months and if I'm still feeling good — if I haven't hurt myself too bad — maybe we'll do it.’”
That’s exactly what he did for the next several months — work really hard. Osmond put himself on a training regimen that increased 10 percent in distance per week, starting at 10 miles. He got to a point where his weekends would consist of 50 miles — in one day —and then 25-30 miles the next day, resulting in weeks of more than 100 miles.
“I’ve never worked so hard in my life,” he said. “It was hard because I was always out and I felt like I never had any time with my wife. But she was very supportive, and when it was all said and done, it was all worth it."
On May 2, Osmond began his trek: 250 miles in eight days. He had a group of family members and friends — his “pit crew,” as he called them — constantly trailing him and providing support. That didn’t change the difficulty of the run itself, though, which included blisters on every toe, losing toenails and serious problems with his iliotibial band.
“It was very difficult,” said Osmond. “I didn't know what to expect. I’ve never run that much in my life. I've done marathons but this was equivalent to 10 marathons back to back.”
Along the way, Osmond was amazed by the support that was shown. In multiple cities he was given an escort through town of fire trucks or ambulances. Hundreds of supporters donned “Super Hear-O” T-shirts while others would often show up and run with him.
“Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to everyone that helped and supported me. I could not have done it without you,” he said. “It was a combined effort with everybody."
Every mile was a struggle, though. He ran an average of 37 miles per day, which shed a full day off of his goal — finishing in seven days instead of eight. There were multiple times in which he felt like giving up but was motivated to finish.
“When days were tough I would think about those kids I met down in St. George and they were the ones that kept one foot in front of the other,” said Osmond. “Everyone needs their motivational factor and that was my mine.”
One of those times that he felt like giving up was just outside of Panguitch. After running more than 20 miles in the day, Osmond was faced with a brutal 10-mile stretch up a mountain.
“It felt like it was almost straight up,” he said. “My plan was to walk every hill and mountain but it started to snow and rain and hail. It was freezing cold and I couldn't walk because my muscles would tighten up, so I had to keep running to stay warm.”
But when Osmond felt like he couldn’t go any further, and felt like giving up, it wasn’t thinking of the kids that help him continue. He uttered a silent prayer, asking for help to get up the mountain.
“With God as my witness, I felt like the burden was lifted off my shoulders,” said Osmond. “Even though I was running up that mountain, I felt like I was running on a flat surface nonstop for 10 straight miles. It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever experienced and I consider it nothing short of a miracle.
“I cannot deny that what happened that day was divine intervention. It was really cool — there was a paradigm shift that just triggered. My mind was set and nothing was going to stop me.”
Osmond finished running up that mountain, and a few days later, he was almost to the finish line in Washington County. For the last few miles, the school district had staggered signs along the sides of the road with pictures of every child, saying, “Thank you, Justin.”
The extra motivation was exactly what Osmond needed, and it fueled him to finish strong — amid hundreds of family members, friends and spectators awaiting his arrival in St. George.
“The first thing I said (when I crossed the finish line) was ‘250 miles, 25 deaf kids, mission accomplished,’” recalled Osmond. “I wish I could live that moment again and again and again.
“There's something about when you set a goal — a very high and difficult goal to achieve — and you lose sleep, blood, sweat, toenails and blisters over it. And then you make it; there's no better feeling in the world knowing that you did it for someone else.”
Nearly four months after his run, Osmond’s life is about back to where it was before. He resides in Ephraim with his wife and his dog, and recently returned from Europe in conjunction with his organization, The Hearing Fund UK.
“Where much is given, much is required,” Justin said. “I’ve been blessed so much, so I feel like I have to turn around and give back to those who need it.”
Osmond lives every day by his personal motto: “I have a hearing loss, but that hearing loss doesn’t have me.” Coming from a musical family — his father, Merrill, is one of the Osmond Brothers — Justin was often told that he would never play an instrument because of his profound hearing loss.
That was Osmond’s main message. And despite the hundreds of people donning “Super Hear-O” T-shirts to support him, he is adamant that his cause was to help 25 kids in southern Utah have a better life.
“I was told that I couldn’t do a lot of things growing up,” said Osmond. “Those 25 kids are in the same boat. But that doesn’t mean they can’t do whatever they want to do.
“Everybody has a challenge in life — physically, mentally or emotionally. Mine happens to be my hearing. But the first step is to accept that you have that challenge, and then do whatever you can to not let it control you.”
Not all superheroes wear capes. But those 25 Utah children helped by Justin Osmond's run can say their “super-hear-o” deserves one.
All quotes obtained firsthand. Email: [email protected]; Twitter: @sambbenson.