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Few appreciate the viral Alabama walker's story like this Buffalo man does

The story of Walter Carr and his life-affirming 20-mile walk to his new job in Alabama earlier this month became a viral sensation, largely because it is so difficult for the average person to comprehend someone doing that.

Unless you happen to be Jeremy O’Brien.

“It’s just beautiful,” O’Brien told The Buffalo News. “The kid just didn’t let anything stop him.”

If you don’t remember the name Jeremy O’Brien, you might still remember why he became something of a media sensation himself 18 years ago: He was the kid who didn’t let anything stop him on a 20-mile journey of his own, from his home in Lockport to his school in Lancaster.

In March 2000, the then-15-year-old O’Brien missed his school bus in Lockport on a day he couldn’t miss school — he needed to be at St. Mary’s High School for a crucial Spanish presentation.

O’Brien and his friend would have failed the quarter if he hadn't made it to class. His mother, Toi, was busy and couldn’t drive him. So O’Brien considered his options and decided that he had only one: Walking 20 miles, most of it along Transit Road.

He made it to St. Mary’s in time, stopping in the office of Assistant Principal Thomas Fay for a late pass before heading to class.

“Where were you?” Fay asked.

“I had to walk,” Jeremy told him.

“You live in Lockport,” Fay said.

“I know,” Jeremy said. “It took me all day.”

Jeremy O’Brien, then 15 and at the height of his fame, stands in front of St. Mary’s High School in Lancaster. (News file photo)

Thus, a legend was born. O’Brien’s story garnered local and national media attention. Videos of O’Brien popped up on "The Daily Show."

“I love it. I love it,” O’Brien said last week, laughing as he recalled the endeavor in an interview. “It cracks me up, because it keeps coming up.”

It came up this week when the news about Carr began rocketing around social media, before becoming a national story.

Carr, of Homewood, a suburb south of Birmingham, was scheduled to start a new job with a moving company the morning of July 13. But the night before, his car broke down and he couldn’t find anyone willing to give him a lift to the job site in Pelham, about 20 miles away. Seeing no other option, he left his house around midnight. With the help of a couple of police officers who wondered why he was walking alone in the dark, Carr made it to his job on time.

The tale of his journey so touched his new boss, Bellhops moving company CEO Luke Marklin, that the executive gave Carr a new car.

About 800 miles away, O’Brien was similarly awed by the story and its familiarity.

“That guy’s an inspiration,” he said.

As for O’Brien, the kid who was so well-known for his walk, he now makes his living behind the wheel, as the owner of the Grove food truck. He said he still walks, though, for exercise and fun.

And hearing about Carr, O’Brien doesn’t just fall back in time, reminiscing about news interviews, or a big blister on his right foot, or the hours on Transit Road. O’Brien thinks about his and girlfriend Sarah’s newborn son, Otis, and what his child might learn from the Alabama man’s story.

O’Brien’s going to make sure Otis understands that, like Carr, you have to “create the world you want for yourself.”

He also might want to mention that the longest journey starts with a single step. No one knows that better than Walter Carr does.

Well, almost no one.


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