Rae Heim used to hate running.
It was the running joke (pun intended) among all who knew her; she was a girl who hated running even the bases in a softball game. Then, three years ago, Rae accompanied her mother, Lesleh Heim, to a race, where the elder Heim sold the running clothes she designs. While there, Rae thought it would be funny to enter the seven-mile race.
"My mom said, `Rae, you hate running.' It was seven miles of the worst hills ever in Davenport, Iowa," Rae said.
But Rae finished the race and, while on a huge high afterward, decided to sign up for the Disneyland half-marathon that September.
A year ago, as she was getting ready to graduate from high school, the 18-year-old Carroll, Iowa, native had a bigger idea - run barefoot across the country. She was inspired by an encounter at the Des Moines Marathon with Marshall Ulrich, who ran across the country attempting to break a world record in 2008.
"I thought, `I'm about to graduate high school. I have an entire summer to do what I want to do,"' Rae said.
Her mother encouraged her to make the personal quest into a larger opportunity to help people. Rae decided to run in support of Soles4Souls, a nonprofit that collects new and used shoes to give to those in need. The company has distributed shoes to more than 125 countries.
"The work that they do is really amazing," Rae said. "Every dollar that gets donated goes toward a pair of shoes. Forty-five percent of the shoes go to people in Haiti.
Fast forward to November 2012, and Rae is almost finished with her seven-month run across the States. She will end her journey at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Manhattan Beach Pier. Mayor Wayne Powell, among others, is expected to speak at the celebration.
The beginning of her journey was tough. She set out from Boston on April 1, planning to run 30 to 40 miles a day with no rest days.
"After the first four days I was breaking down on the side of the road," she said. "I was exhausted. My legs couldn't take it anymore."
She called her mom, who mapped out the rest of her miles, trimmed down the amount per day and scheduled in rest days so her daughter could actually enjoy the trip.
Since then, she has averaged 20 to 25 miles per day, with rest days sprinkled throughout. She often stays with host families who provide food and housing. Some days she has others running with her. Other days have been lonelier. The mileage between Utah and Las Vegas was so desolate she increased her mileage per day and didn't rest so she could "get out of there as soon as possible."
A man named Ron Nelson met her in Utah and drove behind her in an RV, which she could stay in at night.
"It was a gift from God," she said. "That was a huge savior."
For the most part it is Rae alone on the open road, pushing a stroller filled with all of her supplies. The journey has given the 18-year-old time to think about what she wants to do with the rest of her life - perhaps become an English teacher in Colorado. She fell in love with the mountainous state during her run and said it has been the most scenic. There were also many people in Colorado who ran alongside her.
"The people is what makes my run," she said. "I was never a big people person prior to the run. I was really shy, not a big hugger. Running across the country, all these amazing people are willing to go out of their way to help you in any possible way. It turns you into this person who wants to be around people 24/7."
While eating dinner with her host family in Colorado, she began talking about Soles4Souls, and a little girl named Ruby walked up and began listening.
"She said, `Miss, I would like to donate my sandals to Soles4Souls.' She took her pretty little sandals off her feet and put them in the shoe box. That's awesome," Rae said.
She does not know exactly how many shoes or how much money her trip has raised so far, but she has generated $10,000 on the website alone. Around 7,000 to 8,000 shoes were collected the first couple of days she was in Colorado, she said.
Her trip's motto has been: "I'm running barefoot so kids don't have to."
Which raises the question - barefoot?
She prefers it, she said. After breaking her big toe two years ago, her toenail had to be removed, and it was uncomfortable for her to wear shoes while training for the San Francisco Marathon.
"Ever since then I've been hooked on barefoot running. When I wore shoes I was always injured, my knees were swollen, my ankles hurt," she said. "I feel like I was born to run (barefoot)."
Of course, she has used her discretion along the way, putting on shoes in areas with rocky terrain or on streets strewn with glass.
"You have to use your brain," she said. "And I want to be successful, barefoot or not."
Rae said when she first began running it was to prove everyone else wrong.
"Now it's just to prove myself wrong," she said. "I wasn't doing it for anyone else, just for myself. In my head I thought, `I don't know if you'll make it all the way to Manhattan Beach.' It's just trying to accomplish things I never thought I could accomplish."
Her mother adds that Rae would never finish her journey if she was doing it just to cross a finish line.
"Rae ran because she wanted to see if she could get from point A to point B, but Rae is finishing because of the cause," Lesleh said. "The needs of others matter more than the journey of one."
Follow Carley Dryden on Twitter at http://twitter.com/cdryden
Find out more
Anyone interested in running with Rae Heim as she wraps up her trip on Wednesday morning can email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on her journey, including her blog, photos from the trip and how to donate, visit: http://flavors.me/raeainslee