In the Locker Room with James Dill, Men’s Tennis Player Walking Across the Country For Charity


Courtesy of Albuquerque News

Sam Rezaei (left) and James Dill (right) in a recent interview

James Dill is a fourth-year Economics major and a member of the men’s tennis team. This summer, he and his friend Sam Rezaei, a recent graduate of Northwestern University, started a 2,800 mile walk from the Coney Island Boardwalk in NY all the way to the Santa Monica Pier in CA. Throughout their journey, which consists of 25 miles of walking per day, they persevere through fatigue, inclement weather, and many meals of hot dogs. In addition, the two have raised over $10,000 for The Night Ministry, an organization that helps unhoused people in their home city of Chicago. Dill and Rezaei are currently in Fence Lake, NM and have less than 700 miles until they reach their destination. You can find their most recent updates on Instagram @theamericantrail.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What inspired you to walk across the country?

The original inspiration for our walk was the adventure and the physical and mental challenge that would come from a 2,800 mile trek across the country. We also thought it would be a great way to see and learn about the country first-hand. We have also both grown up in cities, so we thought that spending time in rural America and meeting the people there would be a valuable experience.

We began our walk on June 17. At the moment, we are walking through cold and windy conditions and approaching the New Mexico-Arizona border. We look forward to the rise in temperature as we start getting closer to Phoenix. Our diet consists mostly of hot dogs and candy, as that is often all that is available when we do have the opportunity to get food.

How did your time at Oberlin propel you to go on this trip?

I don’t think any experience could fully prepare someone for a trip like this. I will say that my time at Oberlin, where I’ve lived on my own for the first time and learned many lessons in the classroom and on the tennis team, has allowed me to grow and mature as a person. I think that if I had attempted a trip like this in high school, I would not have been ready and it would’ve been a disaster.

What is the purpose of this journey?

The purpose of our walk is to push ourselves outside of our comfort zone and learn to be tough and deal with adversity. Even now that we are over 2,000 miles in, walking 25 miles each day is still very challenging. We have dealt with all sorts of adversity, whether it be weather related, broken equipment, or general fatigue. Along our journey, we also decided to attach a charitable cause to our walk. Several conversations with formerly homeless individuals who described the hardships that they faced inspired us to raise money for The Night Ministry. The Night Ministry is an organization in Chicago, our home town, that provides a variety of services to people who are homeless or struggling with poverty. Our GoFundMe page is called Coast2Coast, and this is the link:

What do you hope to gain from this experience, and what have you learned?

The ability to deal with adversity is one thing that I would highlight. It is impossible to run from it out on the road, so we’ve had to learn to deal with it head on and solve the problem at hand. I also hope that I will return to “normal” life with a new sense of appreciation for things like a balanced diet, heating and air conditioning, and a bed to sleep on. I’ve grown to appreciate the freedom I have to spend my time as I wish, while right now we basically just have to walk all day.

I have learned that there are a lot of kind people out there, and specifically in small town America. People have stopped by in their cars to give us food and water, or just to ask if we are okay. We have also been invited to several church services on Sunday after being found camping on their lawns. These people have wished us safety on our trip, taken us out to lunch, and even gave us money for the road when we didn’t ask for any. In general, people acting kindly to us and doing us favors without asking for anything in return has been very touching. I think it is important to have adventures while you’re young, and this has certainly been a great one.