WILLIMANTIC, CT (10/05/2017) Written by Casey Collins
It's 6:45 a.m., and the usual buzz of construction at Eastern Connecticut State University is absent this late September morning. It is too early for cars to be driving through campus, yet too late for the streetlamps to stay lit. On the morning of Eastern's Ninth Annual Poverty Awareness Marathon, almost everything on campus seems to be at a standstill. Everything except for one man. His name is Charlie Chatterton, an associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education. For him, this is just another normal day.
Chatterton has been preparing for the morning's marathon for quite some time, stretching his legs and torso casually as students begin to fill the courtyard in front of the Fine Arts Instructional Center. Among the students are basketball players, soccer players and volleyball players, with a few other individuals mixed in. They socialize among themselves in tightly-huddled groups, each breath becoming a small cloud escaping into the cold. Chatterton continues his preparations for the marathon, seemingly unfazed by the gloomy weather. His pair of Asics are a bright green and blue, with signs of wear and tear.
As the start time approaches, Chatterton begins to make his way around the circle to organize the marathon participants. He becomes energetic upon mingling with the crowd. He greets everyone, alerting them as to when the 26-mile journey will begin. With all participants lively and attentive, Chatterton takes a second to share his story.
"I've been part of a church group called the Great Disciple of Poverty," Chatterton explained, "and for me this is marathon number 66."
The story began in 2006. At the time Chatterton was an active participant in his local church group, Break the Cycle, which ran marathons to support anti-poverty efforts. That year he ran in four marathons with his support group, the last taking place in New Orleans post-Katrina to raise money and awareness for the restoration of the city. He returned in 2007, this time armed with a group of Eastern students and the support of Habitat for Humanity.
"You got off the highway (going into New Orleans) and you still saw people living in trailers and the devastation and the impact of poverty," he said with an uneasy look on his face, wincing at the memory as if he were still there. "It was very powerful to see."
While Chatterton loves running marathons, it's the raising of awareness that gets him up and motivated in the morning. "I kept running that spring (of 2007) because I was in shape. That summer I decided I was going to do my 37th and 38th marathon. The reason for that was because there was about 37 million individuals in the United States in poverty. So each marathon would be dedicated to a million. Eventually it got up to 41 because the number just kept going up. So in 2009 I finally caught up, but then I just kept going. Now each year I run around three."
Just before the stampede takes off through campus, Chatterton leaves his closing thoughts. He hopes that the marathon will produce 400 donations - already a large stack of cans and boxed goods has taken shape at the donation center.
"It's really about raising awareness towards the poverty issue and asking the students what can they do with their own special talents and abilities to make a difference," Chatterton says. "The real challenge is not what we do today, but what we do going forward."
With that, the crowd takes off through campus. Chatterton leads the pack into its first lap. The sun finally starts to break through the clouds.
As the day continues, students come and go from the marathon. Some participate for just a lap or two, others for miles - whatever their class schedules allow. As each lap passes, the sun continues to rise. At the halfway mark the day is in full swing. Students begin to take up most of the designated marathon path. Those who are left in the marathon are easily identifiable among the sea of backpacks and early-morning coffees - especially the guy in those blue and green sneakers.
Chatterton does not cut himself short. He pushes through each lap, never once dropping the smile from his face. Students and staff alike whisper his name to each other as they spot him finishing up his last few laps. With lap 26 on the horizon, Chatterton arrives at the courtyard, donation tents still standing as the day draws to a close.
The stack of donated goods has grown exponentially. You can see it in Chatterton's expression how much this means to him. The final count for donated goods is 364, just short of the goal, yet there is no disappointment to be found in any of the staff. Chatterton's infectious attitude has reached everyone. This is the real Charlie Chatterton. Thanks to his leadership, Eastern and its students have made a real difference.
Eastern Connecticut State University is the state of Connecticut's public liberal arts university, serving more than 5,300 students annually at its Willimantic campus and satellite locations. In addition to attracting students from 163 of Connecticut's 169 towns, Eastern also draws students from 29 other states and 20 other countries. A residential campus offering 39 majors and 65 minors, Eastern offers students a strong liberal art foundation grounded in an array of applied learning opportunities. Ranked the 25th top public university in the North Region by U.S. News and World Report in its 2018 Best College ratings, Eastern has also been awarded "Green Campus" status by the U.S. Green Building Council seven years in a row. For more information, visit www.easternct.edu.