He’s been running all his life, running for freedom, running for peace.
It started when he ran away from home at the age of eight. Later he ran away from his homeland, Iran, and spent seven years on a bicycle, pedaling 49,700 miles across 55 countries.
In 2002, he reached America. He now lives in a tent in Death Valley.
It’s been nearly 10 years since Reza Baluchi escaped from Iran. He has run across the United States twice and around its perimeter once. He sets out on every journey with the same mission: to spread a message of world peace.
Baluchi plans to begin his next extended run in Israel and finish atop the highest peak on earth — Mount Everest. His route will take him through the Middle East, including Iran. He’d be going home for the first time since escaping on his bike.
The story shares some of Baluchi’s childhood in Iran, to where he was recruited for the national cycling team at the age of 14.
Baluchi cycled and won numerous competitions through his teen years.
He also fell away from Islam, the state-sponsored religion of Iran. He says he was a peaceful activist — and got in trouble for associating with dissidents. At 19, he was arrested by a government militia known as the Basij for eating during Ramadan, the holy month when Muslims are expected to fast. Baluchi was wearing a Michael Jackson t-shirt and carrying “banned pre-revolutionary videotape” — a romantic movie.
He says he spent the next 45 days imprisoned in a torture cell.
After deciding he was “essentially harmless”, he still spent another year and a half imprisoned, but in better conditions with the ability to exercise. He returned to the cycling team, only to defect to Germany when attending a competition. Upon receiving a German passport, he took to the road to other countries with only his backpack and bicycle.
His life on the road — running in a security vest adorned with the American and Iranian flags — took him from China to Panama, France and New Zealand — 55 countries in all. Communicating the message of love and peace.
Eighty-five flat tires later, Baluchi arrived at the U.S. border in Monterrey, Mexico, asking for a visa to enter America. After waiting three months with no document, Baluchi says he got lost while riding his bike in the desert.
“I was 27 miles in Arizona and I had no idea,” he said. “I was awakened one morning by a helicopter hovering over my tent. It was border patrol. When they told me I was actually in the U.S. I started crying.”
It was a year after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, and a Middle Eastern man riding alone in the desert might raise suspicions.
“I started speaking German, hoping they wouldn’t know my nationality. Once the officer searched my tent and saw one of the newspaper headlines ‘Iranian Runs Around the World for Peace,’ he jumped back and put his hand on his gun.”
Baluchi was arrested for entering the United States illegally and spent five months in a detention center, unable to post $5,000 bail.
With the help of others, he finally was able to receive political asylum.
Baluchi says he convinced the judge to release him on humanitarian grounds, promising to run across America for the victims of 9/11 and donate his only possession — his bicycle — to the New York Fire Department.
This led to his running for peace rather than biking…
The saga continues thanks to the help of many.
“I always wanted to give children around the world hope that anything is possible,” he said. “Until my heart stops beating, I’ll keep running for peace.”