“Strong To The Finish” is a feature documentary in the works that follows Brian Hunter on an immensely personal and deeply emotional journey from his home in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to the far-flung mountains, streets, and trails of Mongolia, on a mission of goodwill.
As a child, Hunter was abandoned by his father in the midst of a fight for his life against polio, an unfortunate life experience that haunted Brian in to his adulthood. Nearing his 40th birthday, Hunter had an epiphany that would eventually change his life completely. "I randomly watched a documentary about two guys who rode their motorcycles around the world called 'The Long Way Round' and was captivated by the part of the film set in Mongolia," recalls Hunter. "I couldn't get the images of Mongolia out of my head. It just looked like such a fascinating place—so wild, rugged, untamed, and beautiful. I've never been a motorcycle guy, but as a long distance runner, I toyed with the idea of maybe someday running in Mongolia—or better yet, running across all of Mongolia."
As time passed, the idea of actually running 1,500 miles across the country of Mongolia started to pop into his mind more and more. "I guess it was kind of my 'mid-life-crisis' moment," laughs Brian. "But I thought, ‘Why not?’ So I started doing some research and actually started finding out more and more about a pretty upsetting and shocking problem of thousands of homeless and vulnerable children living on the streets and in shelters in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar. It was like I got kicked in the stomach, and that was really the catalyst to make this dream a reality."
In early 2011, Brian and his family started the planning process, which would ultimately be nearly as daunting as the actual run itself. "People thought I was crazy," says Hunter. "I had friends and family members asking me if I had lost my mind. But for me, this whole project became a spiritual quest. We hit so many roadblocks in the beginning, but the whole time I had the image of these kids in Mongolia in my head, and I just knew I had to do something. I've had a lot of great things happen to me in my life and a lot of people have helped me out over the years, so I have a personal belief that we as humans have a responsibility to help others."
After a year or so of planning, fundraising, and spreading the word, Brian got a call from an unexpected ally that would lead to an incredible partnership. "I lived in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for a long time and have many great friends there," remembers Brian. "A friend of a friend told Curt Morgan of [production company] Brainfarm about the project, and out of the nowhere he called me up and wanted to get involved! It was the beginning of a beautiful partnership."
Even with the Brainfarm name associated with the project, getting the funds to actually complete the mission was at a standstill. But lack of a big-money investment and even a failed crowd-funding attempt didn't sway the conviction of Hunter and his team. "We just pushed on and eventually raised enough money to go to Mongolia and do a scouting trip," says Hunter. "The guys from Brainfarm came with us on that first trip to make a teaser and scout along with us."
With another round of fundraising going nowhere, the team decided to take what little budget they had and go ahead with the trip, bringing a small support team (including Hunter's family) and Brainfarm's Greg Wheeler, who would act as a one-man show to capture the whole adventure.
After months of training and planning, Brian Hunter started his run across Mongolia this past January. Mongolia is as unforgiving as any place on Earth, as Brian and the team found out in the early days of the run. "I knew it was going to be dangerous and physically challenging, but I never expected it to be as hard as it was," recalls Hunter. "Little things you take for granted like being close to a hospital were out the window; at most points of the run we were at least 800 miles away from the nearest hospital or clinic. On one stretch of the run it rained for nine days straight with 49-degree air temps. Every day had a new danger, whether it was the blazing sun, vicious dogs that lined the trail, or locals who didn't exactly know what to make of our team."
Averaging at around 30 miles a day, Hunter's two-month trek took its toll on his mind and body. "I woke up every day with a soreness I couldn't even imagine," Brian recalls. "It would take me 10 minutes to stand up, another 10 to take a step. I thought it would get easier along the way, but that never happened. The last mile of the entire journey was every bit as hard as the first mile. Every day I would just tell myself, ‘If you can stand up, you can walk. If you can walk, you can run.’"
After two intense months, the team returned home triumphant, having raised more than $23,000 to help better the lives of the homeless and abandoned children of Mongolia. The money has since paid for upgrades to orphanages and helped with food service programs for the some of the country's most helpless children.
Along the way, Brainfarm's Greg Wheeler shot hours of incredible footage that captured not only the sheer determination and brutal reality of what Brian was doing, but also focused on the beauty of Mongolia and its people. As of now, the film is still in the process of getting the funding it needs to be completed.
As for Hunter, his life was affected in ways he'd never imagined. "I've become a very dangerous person," he laughs. "I faced so much opposition in the process of doing this project—I had to quit my job, and I had doctors tell me this run would kill me. But what this project gave to me and my wife was a sense that I and we can accomplish anything—that's what makes us dangerous. I now believe I can do anything I set my mind to, and that feels good."
“Strong to the Finish” is a film that simply needs to be seen. Brainfarm, along with Brian Hunter, are currently in the process of wrapping up the funds needed, but they still need your help. Go to http://strongtothefinish.com to get info on how to get involved with this incredible project.
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