Former Penn State Student Jared Reichbaum Walks Across America
Most of us dread the ten-minute walk to that 8 a.m. lecture each morning. As for trekking across the entire country on foot, it would seem nearly impossible — except for someone like Jared Reichbaum.
The former Penn State Altoona Homecoming King did the unthinkable when he walked across America, bringing only a shopping cart filled primarily with the most basic of necessities with him. He accomplished his feat to show people the importance of bone marrow donation while working through an organization called “Be The Match,” the world’s largest bone marrow donation organization. His primary goal was to demonstrate just how simple the process can be, as well as how quickly you can change someone’s life.
“Be The Match is a global bone marrow registry, and to register to see if you are a match for someone on the waiting list only takes two minutes of paperwork and a swab of your cheek,” Reichbaum explained. “It’s actually really simple.”
Reichbaum’s journey itself, however, didn’t go without its fair share of challenges. The trip began on April 14, 2015 and continued until November 15, 2015. Traveling from Atlantic City, New Jersey, to Reno, Nevada, he faced new sets of hardships everyday.
“The pain was easily the most difficult part for me on a daily basis,” Reichbaum said. “That and the monotony of it all. When you’re just walking for hours on end, it starts to get to you.”
Reichbaum dealt with the daily grind through a combination of using music to stay motivated, listening to audiobooks, and making sure to use the trip to immerse himself in the sights and sounds of the nature around him.
One of the other trials he faced constantly, Reichbaum said, was the extreme change in weather conditions. As the walk took place primarily during the summer months, Reichbaum often had to trek through sweltering heat. Once he traveled further west, the desert temperatures plummeted at night.
Reichbaum also became accustomed to wildlife (beyond frequent bites from pesky mosquitoes). “I would even hear coyotes howling outside my tent during some nights,” he described.
Predatory mammals aside, perhaps the most memorable parts of Reichbaum’s journey were the interactions with people he met along the way. In fact, one of his main goals for the walk was to get as many people to register with Be The Match as possible. After traveling for over 2,700 miles, Reichbaum found success in helping over 500 people register as potential stem cell donors.
Many of these memorable connections came from interactions with people who were cancer patients themselves. In one particular instance, Reichbaum met 11-year-old Emily, a girl who had been diagnosed with the disease. The two of them, along with Emily’s family, spent an entire day together. Reichbaum ended up naming the shopping cart he used to store his belongings after her, onto which the girl wrote her name with a Sharpie.
Emily was just one of the various cancer patients that Reichbaum met along the way. Meeting people who were dependent on finding a match and hearing their stories for himself made the cause personal.
“It definitely changed the mission of the walk for me,” he said. “Speaking to these people always kept me encouraged.”
But before he even began the walk, Reichbaum was connected to the cause through a series of recent events in his own family.
“A lot of things happened,” he said. “My dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer, his brothers even had to have heart surgeries, my grandpa passed away before the walk, and my grandma actually passed away a week before the walk began.”
Reichbaum also found another source of personal motivation when his friend Joselyn Miller was diagnosed with cancer in 2012. Reichbaum attended Penn State Altoona from 2004 to 2007 and was the Altoona Homecoming King in 2005. After his first semester at University Park, he ended up transferring from Penn State into a program called “Semester at Sea,” where he and Miller met while both enrolled. The two have remained in touch ever since, and her fight inspired him to take the steps needed to work closer to the cause.
“She was just so positive, and then we started this sort of competition to see if we could knock things off each other’s bucket lists,” Reichbaum said. “This [walk across America] was actually on my bucket list, and I wanted to do it in honor of her.”
Miller eventually found a perfect match through her brother and received a successful bone marrow transplant. However, Reichbaum knows that most people are not lucky enough to receive a match. Consequently, he aims to use Be The Match to give as many people the chance to find a successful match as possible.
Despite the overall success of his journey, Reichbaum still often finds it difficult to get people to actually register under the organization.
“The term “bone marrow” alone just seems to scare people,” he said. “I think if people knew how easy it is, a lot more would register. Anything is well worth the price if it means possibly saving someone’s life.”
But when it came to the cause overall, people appeared to be extremely receptive of Reichbaum’s efforts. Anyone who heard about his walk was shocked at the fact he was able to do it in the first place.
“I still don’t even believe it myself sometimes,” he said.
Since completing the journey, Reichbaum has continued to stay heavily involved with the cause.
“I still volunteer for Be The Match and hold registration drives here in Pittsburgh,” he said. He, along with other volunteers, holds events in the city as well as at universities around the area.
Currently, Reichbaum is also working on a documentary titled “Walking Across Amarrowca” based on the walk and his time spent working through Be The Match. He expects to spend around three to four months working on the film, and hopes that its production will continue to increase awareness for the cause.
Want to learn more? Check out bethematch.org in order to register as a possible donor.