Putting one foot in front of the other, Louis-Michael Figueroa passed through Solano County earlier this week as he continues on a yearlong 7,513-mile walk to fight child abuse.
Administrative errors during the effort cost him his house to foreclosure and financial problems are increasing the challenge, which is why he thinks his wife and two children are the heroes in this scenario.
"My children gave up (their extracurricular interests) for me to do this for a year, so they're really the ones sacrificing," he said.
At 44, Figueroa is an old hand at cross-country trekking, he said.
The first time he crossed America on foot, Figueroa was a 16-year-old high school track star from New Jersey, he said.
"I made a promise to the 10-year-old brother of a friend who had cancer and was despondent and angry over a life that was ending too soon," Figueroa said. "To give Bobby hope, I promised I would run across America if he fought the cancer."
The boy died in May 1982, but Figueroa kept his promise, and set out from New Brunswick, N.J., for San Francisco, raising money and awareness for the American Cancer Society along the way.
Completing the effort in 60 days, he became the fastest and youngest person to run across America, according to several websites.
Fourteen years later, Figueroa said he walked again, this time in remission from his own battle with leukemia, from Bangor, Maine, to San Diego for his brother Jimmy, who had been diagnosed with AIDS.
Visiting 23 states
Now 44, Figueroa set out on Jan. 29, 2005, from his hometown in Tucson, Ariz., to walk in a loop through 23 states to shine a light on the plight of abused and neglected children, he said. A recurrence of his leukemia sidelined him for a couple of years, but he started out again in July.
For most of his life, Figueroa said he's lived with his own painful secret as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.
"I was abused as a child, so I know what that's like. And since children don't vote, it's hard to get the politicians to do much more than pay lip service to the issue," he said. He hopes to build a powerful lobby out of a 10-year-old organization called PROTECT, he said.
From the Vallejo area, Figueroa headed to Brisbane, then planned to go "down the 101 to Southern California," he said. He planned to meet his wife and children for Thanksgiving, somewhere between here and there.
Kiwanis Club friends
Accompanied the entire way by Kiwanis Club members, and helped by sponsors such as Wal-Mart, Applebee's and Holiday Inn, Figueroa said he isn't going to walk alone the last mile, which is scheduled for Jan. 9. Kiwanis members from across the country plan to be there and he hopes others will come as well, he said.
American Canyon Kiwanis member Victor Rivera said he agreed to drive slowly behind Figueroa all day Monday because it's "the least I can do."
"It's such a compelling story. He lost his house over this walk. He's such a humble guy, not asking anyone for anything from this. And this is such an important issue," Rivera said.
Figueroa said he hasn't seen his family since July, and is struggling financially, though things will be better once the walk is over.
"I started at a place called Casa de los Niños, a shelter for abused children, and I'm passing the baton to my 12-year-old son Stevie and my 10-year-old daughter Zyanya to walk the last mile," he said.
"It says that my walk may be done, but our work as a society to protect children is just beginning."