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Outpouring of support overwhelms men on cross-country ‘Rotund Challenge’

Saturday morning, Jason Rogers turned on his phone in Lordsburg, N.M., to check in on the Facebook page he has maintained as he and Chris and Joe Cooke walk across the country.

“I noticed about 30 people had applied to join the group,” he said. “I thought, ‘This is unusual.’ Then my sister Megan Rogers told me, ‘You’re in The Buffalo News.’ ”

Since the story appeared online Saturday and in print in Sunday’s News, Rogers estimated that 250 people joined the Facebook page “2,700 mi. Rotund Challenge,” and 34 readers contributed more than $1,600 to the trio’s GoFundMe page of the same name.

The encouragement and financial support has left the men grateful, and a little astonished.

“We’re always like surprised when people take an interest in us, to help us out, and it’s still surprising after eight months,” said Rogers, the spokesman of the group. “Other people have done this and they had causes and I feel like we are just three idiots.”

The three men left Buffalo on May 17, pushing modified baby strollers loaded with their gear. Unlike others who have walked or biked long-distance, the three had no goal other than to see if they could accomplish it. Two of them, Rogers and Chris Cooke, were obese, although Rogers was down 168 pounds from his all-time high of 478 pounds. Except for 20 miles when they caught a ride in a snowstorm, they have walked every step of the way and expect to cross into Arizona on Tuesday.

The support of the 1,775 people who have joined the Facebook page, which documents each day’s trip, has opened doors for the trio. They have suffered from aching muscles, bug bites, sunburn, cold and even a few bouts of illness along the way, but aid has been extended by churches, homeless shelters and random people who have seen the men trudging along.

“If it wasn’t for the people helping us, we would have been back home by now,” Rogers said.

The trio got to see part of the Super Bowl at a nursing home Sunday, then rested at the home of a woman they met. They slept at a Spanish church Sunday night.

“One of the exciting parts is we never know where we are going to sleep when we start the day,” said Rogers.

A former Buffalonian who posted on the group’s Facebook page after the article appeared offered to try to arrange lodging for them in Los Angeles, where they hope to stay for a week before heading home on the train. “That’s a big relief for us. We had no clue going in there where we would stay,” said Rogers. “ I still look at it as a partial guarantee because it could still fall through, but we have a potential spot.”

The three are still living too close to the edge to be able to splurge on motel rooms or set the extra $1,600 aside for train fare home.

“I know we all need shoes,” said Rogers. “To finish off the walk I need two more pair of shoes, Joe needs two and Chris needs one, so it will go toward our shoes and food. We won’t be able to put money aside for our return home until we get to L.A. But we are going to avoid motels at all costs.”

Rogers did check out the price of train fares before leaving home, but has long since forgotten, he said, and won’t worry about it until he needs to.

More important than the money is the support, he said. “Their encouragement helps so much, knowing people back home are interested in us. When we get support like this it gives us a boost, a big morale boost.”

Another Facebook poster offered to welcome the three home with a 12-pack of Genesee Cream Ale each.

“I didn’t like to drink until this walk, when I found out that a cold beer on a hot day just tasted so delicious,” Rogers said. “Joe would hate it, but I told him I’d take his 12-pack.”