Woman walking across U.S. for filipino artist

Published 7:00 am Saturday, November 7, 2015

LEAP OF FAITH: Jessica Thompson poses for a picture in Jacksonville. Submitted photo.

LEAP OF FAITH: Jessica Thompson poses for a picture in Jacksonville. Submitted photo.

Jessica Thompson chose the road less traveled when she decided to embark on a walk across the United States in honor of Dr. Wayne Dyer, a well-known motivational speaker and self-help author.

The Tennessee native began her journey in Jacksonville, Florida on Oct. 11 and has since walked 10 to 20 miles a day with just her hiking backpack in tow.

“After Dyer passed away this year, I was motivated and inspired to help people the way he helped people,” Thompson said.

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The 37-year-old stay-at-home mom of two is paying it forward and raising money for a destitute artist from the Philippines, 47-year-old Ivanhoe Ardiente, who has a rare disease called Ankylosing Spondylitis—an inflammatory disease that can cause some of the vertebrae in a spine to fuse together, which could cause difficulty breathing, according to the Mayo Clinic’s website.

Thompson met Ardiente online and developed a friendship. Thompson said she was “inspired” by Ardiente’s passion for art even though he’s limited by his crippling disease and lives in a poor community.

“I was inspired by him and hope my walk inspires many people and helps him,” Thompson said.

Thompson walks during the day and sleeps in a tent most nights. She stays at hotels when her family and friends are able to pitch in.

However, the journey hasn’t been smooth sailing. When Thompson arrived in Panama City, Florida, she ran out of money, so she had no choice but to spend a night sleeping outside with the homeless, who she said welcomed her with open arms.

Thompson is currently staying at her friend’s home in Picayune to recuperate from a minor injury she sustained as she was walking across Florida near the Alabama state line.

A major rainstorm caused Thompson to slip and fall, pulling a hip muscle.

Picayune resident Sheila Hansen picked Thompson up and brought her to Picayune to recover.

Hansen said she admires Thompson for what she’s doing.

“Part of it is crazy, but I give her a lot of credit. I admire her for doing this because at least she’s doing something for someone. Too many people nowadays are living in their own world,” Hansen said.

Since she began her journey, Thompson said it hasn’t been emotionally easy.

“Every day I doubt myself. You can’t walk 20 miles in the rain without wondering what you’re doing out there,” Thompson said.

However, she finds inner strength from the support of her family.

When she told her family about her plans to walk across the United States, Thompson said, “I didn’t expect them to understand but they were actually excited about it.”

Even though she’s far from home, she video chats with her family every night before going to sleep.

“I know this is scary and not easy but I have a policy of not avoiding things that aren’t easy,” Thompson said.

She raises awareness about her walk via her Facebook page, A Walk Across the United States.

She documents her experiences and all the people she’s met in her journal.

Thompson said she’s encountered many people on the road and through social media who have supported her cause. However, there are people who don’t understand it.

“I get a lot of criticism about why I’m walking and raising money for someone in the Philippines. People call me a guru and I don’t want to be called that,” Thompson said.

Thompson said she wants to be referred to as “a mom on a walk to help someone.”

During her walk, Thompson hopes to raise $20,000 for Ardiente’s medical expenses. She plans to be back on the road within a couple of days to continue her journey west in hopes of inspiring people, especially her two children.

“The way I can parent them is to lead by example,” Thompson said.

She believes her journey will take no more than a year to complete.