This is the story of a man named Tony, who happened to overhear of the major predicament FITniche found itself in after the store replaced their Labor Day sale with a shoe and clothing drive for the victims of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, TX. FITniche’s customers had come through in a big way—too big a way, and each of the three running stores now looked more like Salvation Army distribution centers than specialty running stores. Almost 70 large boxes-worth of shoes, clothes and other items were now piled around the sales floors, and the shipping to get them to TX was going to cost northwards of $4,500! Much more than FITniche had bargained for. More than FITniche could afford, frankly.
That’s when Tony Gougeon, a customer and retired Special Operations NCO and participant in numerous Iraqi cross-country re-supply operations, came to the rescue. After overhearing a couple of the crew members lamenting the situation he immediately stepped forward and volunteered to drive the donated product the 1,100+ miles to Frisco, TX where Mike Rouse and his Run Texas crew could take over and distribute the products to those in need in Houston.
Rich incredulously thanked Tony and the two of them devised a plan. Tony set off with a U-Haul rented by FITniche along with reservations for a couple of unglamorous hotel reservations along the route and a store credit card for gas and incidentals. The plan was to leave Thursday, deposit the goods Saturday morning in Frisco, return the truck in Dallas and fly home later that afternoon.
Then Hurricane Irma appeared off the coast of Florida with a projected direct hit on the state, and the plan began to frag. The initial four hours to get to I-10 became 9, as hundreds of thousands of Floridians clogged the roads north evacuating the state. Tony drove 14+ hours each day instead of the intended 9-11. Along the way he took additional time on the second day to turn around and go back to help a couple of young women with a broken-down car, walking with them to a nearby farm house where he borrowed a gas can and paid for gas from the farmer and then gave the young women his remaining cash, so they could get enough gas at the next exit to make it rest of the way to their destination.
Saturday morning Tony finally pulled in to Frisco, Texas and was greeted by an enthused and super-thankful Mike Rouse at his Run Texas store. Mike and his crew unloaded the truck and treated Tony to a hearty brunch next door. By this time, however, Hurricane Irma was knocking on Florida’s door, and Tony’s flight back to Tampa, FL was one of the last ones canceled. That was a heartbreaking moment.
Rich and Tony discussed options. Tony’s wife was home alone to weather Hurricane Irma on her own, but Tony had been in touch with her and felt confident in her abilities to batten down the house and care for her parents as well.
Tony, rather than laying over in a hotel at the Dallas airport, would drive yet again…this time to family in Clarksville, TN, where his children and grandchildren from Florida had, ironically, evacuated to. U-Haul generously coughed up a few hundred additional miles at no charge and FITniche covered the rest of the trip from Dallas to Tennessee. And where did Hurricane Irma track to? That’s right. Straight up Florida, Georgia and into Tennessee.
Eventually the weather cleared for everyone; the Tampa airport re-opened, and our man, Odysseus, aka Tony Gougeon, flew back to Florida. Rich picked Tony up at the airport and delivered him straight to yet another hotel. This one a much more pleasant one, as his wife was waiting for him there. Tony’s house was one the few unfortunate homes that took line crews over a week to get power restored to, so it was another few hotel nights before Tony got to actually go back to his home with a FITniche Events generator.
All in all, Tony Gougeon sacrificed over a week of his personal time and traveled 2,637 miles to make sure the goods donated by FITniche customers got to the good people of Houston, TX. It was an epic journey and an epic sacrifice. Thank you, to all who donated to this cause; thank you also to FITniche Wiregrass Crew Member Trish Trout who spearheaded this effort; and thank you, especially, to Tony Gougeon! You and your wife’s next pair of running shoes are on the house!