“Being from the South means something, and it means even more now,” Wesley Hunt states. The Arkansas native and four-time winner of the Arkansas Traveler 100 Mile is now a middle-school history teacher and his students just came off a two-week unit on cultural identification. “We did a pie chart with percents on how we identify, and I needed to demonstrate my own. Being Southern is a pretty big part of how I self identify. That’s not a negative, it feels like home, makes me smile.”
I couldn’t help but smile too. It was good to hear those good words late in our conversation, after Hunt had opened the book on recent life challenges. In 2018, Hunt was living in Arkansas, working as in-house counsel for the state’s largest utility, and married for the second time. His first wife had moved to Georgia with his two oldest kids, and Hunt chased a job opportunity in Colorado.
“I was doing regulatory work for Colorado’s largest utility, working on renewable opportunities. It was the perfect time [for a change]; my third son was starting kindergarten. We were able to walk to school. It was a time to try something different,” he said of the 2018 move to Colorado. “I liked the work, I was good at it, maybe too good at it because that’s all I was doing. It was affecting my health, my marriage. I was not the same person. I had anxiety, right foot issues were keeping me from training, stress at work combined with physical issues. I was a workaholic and I got to this low point. It was like, Why did I move to Colorado“?
Hunt calls himself a “rambling Southern man,” and he’s telling his tale with a Southern accent that has me hooked. “In Colorado, nothing was going to plan. My priorities were misplaced. I was not the person I wanted to be.” In the summer of 2019, he divorced for the second time and left his job. “Running was my saving grace, brother,” he said, and I appreciate the term of endearment. “I was really intentional about it and I ran a race with my brother, my dad, and my kids. It helped to remember why I do this, to have that time with family. My daughter was 10 and ran 30 minutes for 5k.” I can feel his pride through the phone at that memory. “Bam, bam, bam, running gives back to me when I need it the most. I know it sounds cliché, but I was at such a low point in life, it restored a sense of hopefulness I needed.”
Late in 2019, Hunt started to reconsider decade-earlier thoughts about being a teacher, and early in 2020 he started to lean into a return to Arkansas. “Nick Clark‘s race, the Never Summer 100k, reminded me so much of the [Arkansas] Traveler family. I slept in my car at the start, had this long solo day out there. That was the best adventure I had in Colorado and was just time to think about, Where do I need to be in life?”
Hunt put some finality to those thoughts and did leave his law career and did leave Colorado. He’s now a public-school teacher and assistant cross-country coach in Little Rock, Arkansas. “This story is not with real challenges. I’ve got two kids in Georgia and two kids in Michigan. It’s rough, brother,” he says with a hint of emotion, and my heart breaks a bit for him. “From May to August this year, all four kids were with me every day. My family’s got 200 acres in Hot Springs, a few miles outside of town, and that was my saving grace. Every day of the summer, I had all four kids and I should have that opportunity in the future. Every day me and the three oldest kids ran 1.5 miles on technical trails,” Hunt accentuates the word “technical” to underscore the accomplishment. “Logistics are tough during the year, but envisioning having that opportunity keeps me going. They’re my world and I will miss them tremendously, but I’ll look forward to [the summer]. I couldn’t have gotten that in Colorado working 80 hours a week or in Little Rock [in his former role] working 60 hours a week. I think that time with them in the summer will be impactful on their future.”
Whew, I throw some levity into the conversation and refer back to Hot Springs. It’s been almost 20 years since I was there and I call it “Buckskin.” Hunt corrects me, it was the Buckstaff Bathhouse that I visited. Either way, the hot springs on bathhouse row in Arkansas are not like the hot springs in Colorado and being bathed as an adult is incredibly awkward. “It’s the public-bath tradition,” Hunt explained. “Some have turned into spas. The whole city is basically a national park.”
After that short pause, Hunt jumps back in. “There’s no other way to say it, I was neglecting my family. I needed to take a hard damn look in the mirror, and that’s what I did,” he drawls. “I spent a lot of time with my family, getting back to the fundamentals of life. I’m 37, brother. I’ve been married twice, four kids. I have lived a life. And now I’ve got to look at the decisions I’ve made. Those divorces are the two biggest failures I’ve made. All I can try to do is learn from it.”
“I threw all of my energy into the kids over the summer, that’s all I could think about. And now I’m really putting a lot into school,” the dad, teacher, and assistant coach said. “It’s blended learning, about half on Google and half in the class. It’s hard to keep the kids online engaged; I wish I could do more. I sought out a diverse issue [in teaching history] and a diverse school. There’s still work to do on social justice, so maybe it’s good for me to be here now. I’m proud of my Southern heritage and I’m proud of how I feel about social-justice issues. I’m a pretty progressive guy.”
It’s true with running too, with Hunt. He holds the Arkansas Traveler course record, won four consecutive years, but wishes for something greater. “I’ll run [Arkansas] Traveler again, but I really want to go to the Western States 100,” Hunt asserts. After this talk, I really want him to have that chance too. “I’m getting my edge back. I can gain a running edge, but still be open and honest about my feelings, and that’s growth for me.”
“I’m passionate about the things I like, family, running. This is the stuff that makes me smile,” Hunt declared.
Keep smiling, brother.
Call for Comments
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