Challenging charity walk from Tampa to Seattle

Stephen HnilicaFREMONT, CA: Stephen Hnilica, a serial entrepreneur and online marketing specialist, is walking from Tampa to Seattle to raise $100,000 for Free the Children. The walk from Tampa to Seattle is 3657 miles and will take Stephen about six to nine months. Along the way he was in Bay area and was gracious to enough to provide an exclusive interview to Ritu Maheshwari of India Post.

What inspired you to undertake such a long walk?
Back in Tampa, I was living my life for me, and as fun as it could be. At times, a life lived for one is a life barely lived. I needed that feeling of purpose and growth that makes the difficulties we all face in our lives worthwhile.
With this journey, I did the opposite of what I had been told about finding purpose. I did something that I didn’t think I could handle, something that forced me not to find purpose in my life, but to create it. A rite of passage, a crucible to show me what I’m capable of.
Thru this journey, I wanted to bring the opportunity of education to children who would otherwise be forgotten. So many times I’ve heard about something and thought “someone should do something about that”, what keeps me going is knowing that I can be that someone.

How does your family take this effort? How are they supporting you?
When I first told my parents, they said I am crazy, and that this journey would be the death of me. I didn’t try to persuade them about it. I knew I needed to do this. When I set out, my parents, and my brother JD became my trail angels; the people who were there for me when I needed help the most. When the kindness of strangers failed, I always had my family.

Please describe your previous endeavors.
I’ve been mostly “self educated” since 12. By self educated, a better term might be self directed. I’ve had more teachers and read more books than most people my age. My parents were small business owners and I was inspired to do the same, learning about Internet marketing at 15.
Before I left Tampa, I had a small Search Engine Optimization and social media consulting firm. I also worked with information marketers to create and market continuing and alternative education courses.

Can you narrate any interesting incidents you encountered along the way?
One of my biggest fears in this journey is that I would quit. I would get depressed or hurt and say that I can’t continue on.
I was in East New Mexico, just west of Hobbs. I had 50 miles before I reached the next town. In a desolate road, surrounded by the endless field of natural gas wells, I was forced to camp as the night pressed in and what little heat that blessed the desert in winter left the land. My weary body quickly retreated into sleep.
I woke suddenly from a disturbing dream to find I could barely breathe. The site smelled of the toxic fumes of natural gas. One of the wells was leaking. I grabbed my gear and quickly moved to the high ground. I was exposed to the biting wind, without the shelter of my tent. It was a cold night.
With little more sleep, I found I could not eat. I was vomiting up what little I could put in my stomach. My shortness of breath and my inability to eat made it impossible to reach the next town. I had to admit defeat. I checked my cell after the sun charged it up. No signal.
I was in an ocean of desolation. I had food but could not eat, I could barely breathe, and the road was a desolate wasteland of automated industry. Something in me said not to go back, but to press forward. 50 miles. At best, it would take three days. Now, at my worst, it could take an eternity.
I wanted to lie down and die, let the coyotes and rattle snakes be my end. Despite all the world being against me, I made it. Depressed, exhausted and starving, I struggled the distance in just 5 days.
What kept me going was the idea that my life wasn’t my own. It was now connected to so many lives. In the face of great adversity, what will keep us going is our connection to the lives we touch. That is how you create purpose.

What advise can you give to youngsters today?
Learn and experiment as much as you can. Learn to love uncertainty and learn to dance with your fears. When you ask yourself “why doesn’t somebody do something about that?” remember, you are somebody. And most of all don’t seek an easy life; seek challenges that will make you more capable of helping others.

Across the country, what are the key cultural differences you came across?
I feel we are a county divided by looking for how people are different from us. From every big city, to every small town, the one thing everyone had in common was that they were all good people. Some were desperate for love, money, or fun, but they were all amazing people. The culture of America is that we are not just accepting of strangers, but we welcome them with open arms. And when called upon, we seek to help our fellow men. Despite what politicians have us believe, there is more similarity between Texas and California than there are differences.
Follow his journey at and help this amazing cause.

Ritu Maheshwari
India Post News Service