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Cross-country peace run was no ‘walk in the park:’ Three men reunite 40 years later in Spokane Valley

UPDATED: Mon., April 25, 2022

Paul Carpino, left, Jeff Tracy and Bill Starkey get together in Spokane Valley for a 40th reunion on Saturday. In 1982 the trio ran across the country for peace and nuclear disarmament.  (Brian Plonka)
Paul Carpino, left, Jeff Tracy and Bill Starkey get together in Spokane Valley for a 40th reunion on Saturday. In 1982 the trio ran across the country for peace and nuclear disarmament. (Brian Plonka)

Forty years ago, three activists ran from New York City to Seattle for peace and nuclear disarmament as hostility increased between the Soviet Union and Western allies.

Last week, the trio reunited in Spokane Valley for the first time since 1982.

Jeff Tracy, 66, and Bill Starkey, 65, met with their 94-year-old friend and mentor, Paul Carpino, Saturday at Revel Spokane, an independent living community in Spokane Valley where Carpino and his wife of 72 years, Lorrie, live.

The two presented Carpino, donned in a purple “A RUN FOR PEACE” T-shirt, with a University of Montana School of Social Work Lifetime Achievement Award plaque. Starkey told The Spokesman-Review that Carpino was one of the first four graduates of the School of Social Work in 1954.

Carpino was also nominated for the university’s Alumnus of the Year. He will learn next month whether he will take home that honor.

In 1982, Tracy and Starkey were young teachers at an elementary school in Browning, Montana, on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. They were also avid runners and active in the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign that called for a halt to the testing and production of nuclear weapons in the U.S. and Soviet Union.

The two were inspired by a Canadian, Terry Fox, who lost his leg to cancer at 18 years old. Fox ran 3,339 miles across part of Canada in 143 days before cancer returned and he was forced to stop. He died the next year at 22.

Starkey, who is now a retired school counselor and psychologist who lives in Polson, Montana, said if Fox could perform such a feat, surely he and Tracy could run across the U.S. by day and promote peace at night.

“I said, ‘I don’t think these guys are as crazy as they seemed,’” Carpino said at the reunion Saturday.

Starkey said Carpino empowered the school teachers in fundraising and presenting their message during the trip.

“He was our father’s age at the time, and he really was sort of a father figure on this event,” Starkey said.

The three set out on the “Run for Peace” on June 21, 1982, and finished three months and 3,200 miles later on Sept. 18 in Seattle. They garnered local and national media attention throughout the cross-country run, speaking or showing videos to reporters to spread their peace beliefs.

The three took turns running and were joined almost every day by other runners inspired by the men. A 1960s van that Starkey purchased for $400 motored behind the runners. The vehicle was also used by the exhausted men to take naps.

They stayed in homes, often owned by people in church, peace or running groups, or camped during the entire trip, they said.

“We didn’t know exactly where we were going to sleep,” Carpino said.

Tracy said Starkey ran about 1,200 miles, Carpino ran roughly 900 and he ran around 500. Other runners who joined made up the remaining mileage.

Besides the humid weather, especially in the East and Midwest, the long trek was not without adversity.

Tracy, who was director of a community health center in Gering, Nebraska, before recently retiring in nearby Scottsbluff where he’s lived for years, said he had an injured knee so Carpino and Starkey were the “workhorses” in the first two-thirds of the trip. Starkey then developed foot problems in Wyoming so the other runners picked up the slack.

“Paul was the consistent thread all the way through,” Tracy said.

Starkey said one early morning a bridge closure forced him to swim across a river in Ohio. He said another time Tracy tore a vehicle’s bumper off while trying to squeeze into a parking spot and later that same day ran over a guitar case while parking. The trip got off to a rocky start when one of the van’s tires got a flat in the first 40 miles.

“Every day was a bit of an ordeal, but I think there was some adventure in the challenge every day that we both embraced, and we were young guns and happy to feel alive by doing that,” Starkey said. “It wasn’t a walk in the park or a piece of cake by any means.”

Still, Tracy said it was a great way to see the country from start to finish.

“You really got an appreciation of each part of the country and its uniqueness,” he said.

They raised about $13,000 during the trip through donations, sponsors and by selling “RUN FOR PEACE” shirts. The three men used the money to send five U.S. ranchers and a University of Utah professor to the Soviet Union to meet with Soviet Union residents in a “citizens’ detente” effort.

Tracy said it was their way to try to break down barriers and bring long-lasting peace – something the two governments failed to do, he said.

“We knew that we weren’t going to change the world even though we wanted to change the world,” Tracy said.

Tracy said he sees similarities between the Cold War and the current Russia-Ukraine conflict.

He said many in the Soviet Union in the 1980s were opposed to their government’s Cold War actions just like many Russian residents today stand against their government’s military efforts.

“The whole Cold War was a battle of ideology and the Ukrainian war and the potential larger implications of that, again, is a battle of ideology,” Tracy said.

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