Since escaping his native iran in 1996, Reza Baluchi has become a world ambassador for peace. He has cycled his way through several continents and is now running from Los Angeles to New York. He plans to arrive at Ground Zero on September 11.
Reza Baluchi is just 1.5 meters tall, and 61-kilos. But every bit of him is muscle. What's even stronger, though, is his spirit, something the Iranian government couldn't break. Mr. Baluchi has been imprisoned, flogged and beaten by the authorities in his homeland. But that didn't make him turn to violence. Instead, he has a different message. "Peace and freedom. I like everybody go together," he says.
Mr. Baluchi doesn't walk his talk, he's runs it. He's running it nearly 5,000 kilometers, all the way from Los Angeles to New York City.
Not even malaria, diarrhea, a robbery, or a hit-and-run accident. That's just part of what the runner has faced. For six years, before coming to the United States, the Iranian spread his goodwill message elsewhere in the world by bicycle. He explains in a mixture of English and Spanish.
That's 14 countries in Africa, 23 in Europe, six in Asia. That came after Mr. Baluchi got in trouble in his homeland for flouting Islamic law. Later he was imprisoned for associating with a group of dissidents. His right collarbone rises in a peculiar knot, the remains of a prison beating, he says. The runner says that his way of fighting back is to work for peace. "If someone slaps you in the face, you can't slap them back. Because it's like the same with international politics," he says. "If a neighboring country wants to go to war, there would be war all the time, if someone did not say 'no, we want peace, we don't want to fight.'"
When he started his bike for Peace in 1996, Mr. Baluchi had planned to finish his journey around the world in Toronto. But September 11 and its aftermath changed his mind, especially when President Bush named Iran as part of the axis of evil. "And it was at that time that I decided that no matter what, I was going to go to the United States with this message of peace, and reaffirm the fact that Iranians are not terrorists," he says.
So in May, he set out from Los Angeles, with a donated RV where he could eat and sleep. A new friend, David Hyslop, volunteered to drive while Mr. Baluchi ran. "There was just something in my heart that said, I have to go and do this; I have to help this guy complete his journey," he says.
Mr. Baluchi's other traveling companions include a young Iranian-American photojournalist and a black-and-white mutt with a taste for dog biscuits.
The dog started running alongside him someplace in Oklahoma, and was still at it miles later, so the Iranian named him Rocky, like the boxer who wouldn't give up, in the movie with Sylvester Stallone. Now Rocky's part of the team.
Mr. Baluchi gets company off the running trail, too. Today, several Iranian families from Greensboro have found his RV. They're perfect strangers, but they greet him like family, with hugs, flowers and an invitation to dinner. 10-year-old Hilda Tejali wishes Reza luck. She thinks his journey can make a difference. "I think it'll be a little bit of a difference, because like maybe people will put him on news and stuff and then everybody will start supporting him. 'Cuz most people want peace in the world and everybody wants no more fighting. I do I want peace in the world," she says.
Visitors like Hilda have scribbled messages on the back of Reza Baluchi's RV. One says, 'May the road rise to meet you, Reza. Thank you for your example.'