‘Human Etch-A-Sketch’ honors son’s memory, kids battling disease one run at a time

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Rik Zortman says he's lost count of the number of running shoes he's gone through over the years as he pounded the pavement, trying to forget.

"My son passed away from cancer in 2009 and he was only three," Zorman said. "Running kind of became my therapy."

Yet despite all the miles, Zortman felt directionless. It was on one of these daily runs that Zortman saw something in those zig-zaggy lines of his MapMyRun GPS app — the opportunity to run his son’s name.

"I used the GPS coordinates to spell out his name: Armstrong," Zortman said.

Making every step forward a tribute to his son, he posted the picture of his run on his Facebook. Within days, names of other cancer patients began pouring in, as complete strangers asked Rik to run their loved ones names.

His runs would lead him up hills, through parking lots and countless sidewalks to spell Charlotte, or Jorge, or Levi

"I ended up doing 101 names that month and still had names left over," Zortman said. "Last year I ended up running 362 of the 365 days."

He doesn’t remember who pegged him the "Etch-a-sketch runner," but it is a title he now proudly wears as he honors those who passed and those who are still fighting, one run at a time.

"It lifts me to be able to do this for others and give them just a little bit of hope. It makes me feel good inside," Zortman said.

After each run he records the mileage and their name in a journal, which is now filled with pages and pages of runs in honor of kids just like his own son. While the book is almost out of pages, he has no plans to stop.

Anyone can still leave their loved one's name on his website Runforarmstrong.com.

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