Running Backwards for Optimism and Dreams

by Dec 15, 2020Across the Cape Fear, Nonprofits, North Brunswick

Sixty-one-year-old Tracy McCullen will run 100 miles backwards this week to raise money for a new outdoor sports facility for kids in Wilmington’s Northside Community.

Tracy McCullen admits his upcoming feat “is a little crazy,” but he is determined to raise $100,000 for Community Boys and Girls Club in Wilmington. He plans to run 100 miles, but not as normally done. McCullen will run the 100 miles backwards in 100 hours! His plan is to run 25 miles a day for four days beginning Thursday, December 17, and finishing Sunday, December 20.

McCullen’s idea formulated when he wanted a unique way of getting attention to raise money for the club. The money will help fund an outdoor sports facility in the Northside Community in Wilmington.

“I try to tell everyone running backwards is not as hard as it seems, but nobody believes me,” he says, adding that he is stronger and faster when he runs forward because he runs backwards.

Tracy McMullen Running Backwards

McCullen has already run two marathons backwards. The Wrightsville Beach Marathon in 2019 was the first, and the 2020 New York City marathon in November, which was virtual, was the second.

He has no fear of running backwards, but his wife of 20 years, Dorothy Papadakos, a composer and playwright, suggested he use a mirror to keep from colliding with anything. He accepted her suggestion, and he uses a sun visor with a bicycle helmet mirror attached to help guide him.

Noted ultra-marathoner Charlie Engle will be at the fundraiser to support McCullen, as will his trainer, Tom Clifford of Without Limits training programs.

“There are people who want to do great deeds for our world and for our local community, and Tracy is one of those people,” Clifford says. “He’s a pretty positive guy, and he’s relentless. I can’t stress enough if more people would be as relentless and determined to do something, they can change things for the better.”

McCullen’s vision of the sports facility, which he labels “Track of Optimism and Field of Dreams,” will be fashioned after the Athletic Exploratorium in Copenhagen, Denmark. The initial money he raises funds the architectural and engineering drawings, excavation, drainage and other basic start-up needs. The entire project may take up to three years to complete and require around $3 million, which McCullen plans to raise. Thus far he has raised $30,000.

Tracy McMullen Racing Marathon

“It’s great financially for the club, but it’s also a great inspiration for our kids to see his determination and his spirit,” says Kirk Dominick, interim CEO of Community Boys and Girls Club of Wilmington. “What a great opportunity to bring awareness of Community Boys and Girls Club, and the kids we serve.”

Because of COVID, the club is limited to welcoming 40 to 50 children a day, but before restrictions, it had been serving up to 100 a day.

Dominick says one of the key tenets of the club is healthy lifestyles. “So this fits very well with that,” he says. “These pandemic times our kids spend too much time indoors. Timing couldn’t be better to start planning for world-class outdoor spaces.”

McCullen, 61, ran his first marathon on his 50th birthday, May 3, 2009, in British Columbia. He wanted to do something spectacular for his birthday, but as 2009 approached, he didn’t have the money for a big splash, so when a friend suggested he run a marathon, he accepted the challenge.

He has always liked sports, but growing up in Clinton, North Carolina, he preferred surfing and skateboarding. He says as a teen he would dive off the roof of his house, avoid the 12 feet of concrete below and land in the family’s 8-foot-deep swimming pool. To challenge himself more, he put a trampoline on the cement, bounced off it, did aerial acrobatic maneuvers and landed in the pool. “I’ve always been adventurous,” he says.

After receiving an associate’s degree from Brigham Young University-Idaho, McCullen spent two years as a missionary in Argentina, Patagonia and Pennsylvania before moving to the area and being a lifeguard at Wrightsville Beach. He enrolled at UNCW, hoping to become a Spanish teacher since he is fluent in the language. But when he exchanged rent for painting the rooms inside a Wrightsville Beach home and doing its landscaping, he discovered his love for landscape design. He opened Landscapes Unique in Wilmington, a business he has owned for 30 years, and designs magical outdoor spaces that he considers as nurturing and inspirational.

McCullen tells anyone who wants to run backwards to start walking backwards and get comfortable with the orientation. “It’s not physically difficult,” he says.

And he may take this fundraising style on the road.

Boston MarathonT racy McMullen

“If this [fundraiser] turns out to be as extraordinary as I imagine it to be, I can see myself doing the same sort of things for other organizations around the country, probably for Boys and Girls Clubs of America.”

Support Tracy McCullen’s Fundraiser for Community Boys and Girls Club in Wilmington
McCullen will run backwards on December 17, 18, 19 & 20 from 8 am to 4 pm each day.
Head to the Wrightsville Beach Town Hall welcoming tent to cheer him on.

To make a donation to the fundraiser, visit: