He's obsessive compulsive. With an uncanny knack for remembering dates, like October 15, 1999, when he jogged his now-famous daily 8-mile Raven Run along the same stretch of Miami’s South Beach in Hurricane Irene's 86-mile-per-hour winds.
OCD, says Robert "Raven" Kraft, 63, is a positive. "It's natural. It's just a part of me," he says. It started young when he'd count each stroke with his toothbrush and touched the bat just the same way after a big hit in little league.
These days the numbers have summed up to 38 years straight of running every afternoon at 5:30 p.m., never less than 90 minutes—all adding up to the longest known world running streak on sand and in the same location. Raven has run through fall-down dizzy food poisoning, golf-ball-size hail, and lately severe back pain stemming from 19 years of running with spinal stenosis.
Raven is still pushing through, although with a little hesitancy in his voice. “I might not make it to the 40-year mark because of my health,” he says. Either way, the people who have run with him consider Raven "unstoppable," which is also the title of a documentary about Raven due out in early 2014.
A scruffy-bearded country songwriter, Raven was a self-described loner from childhood. He also got a double dose of stubbornness—half from a dad who left in quintessential willfulness when Kraft was 4, and half from a mom whose inability to give in meant not eating when Alzheimer's took over.
When Kraft, who grew up in Miami, first returned there after living in Nashville, Tennessee, for a while, he fell in with a group of boxers, and one of these guys gave him the nickname Cowboy Bob, which he didn’t like. Since he only wears black and stays up late, someone suggested “Raven,” and it stuck. Just like running did.
Raven found the sport of running after heartbreak led him to a dark place in his life. It seems someone stole his lyrics and a country singer made big a hit. The sting lasted a long time. But once Kraft found a ritual in running, the anger subsided. "I saw changes in my personality. The conditioning helped my mental state. People said I was more mellow and laid back. It brought me out of my shell," he says.
He liked the feeling. Then naturally began sharing it. "Unexpectedly this became my mission. Now I run for others—to inspire, to make friends, to connect with people." The stories, and snapshots since 1975, could fill several books. Laura Lee Huttenbach will try to squeeze them into one biography, forthcoming in 2015.
Raven has been ordained, marrying people on his daily run. He's given out more than 1,900 nicknames, such as Yellow Rose, Cadaver, and White Lightening, to strangers who've run with him from every state and 77 countries. They are all tracked on The Raven List. On paper. Ravens don't own computers.
Visitors always seem to take a little piece of Raven with them. He was gifted an unmatched resolve. It is his to share. Like the ocean that "heals," he says, and the songwriting that still soothes his soul, Raven is now committed to helping others fly. A little longer. A little higher. A little lighter.
More stories about running on GrindTV