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Confidence to help kids

Stewart Oksenhorn

Mark Llewhellin no longer has a self-esteem problem. A few hundred miles on foot, through the Rocky Mountains and the Sahara Desert, have done wonders for his confidence.

Llewhellin, a 26-year-old native of Wales, U.K., ran over Independence Pass and into Aspen yesterday as part of a run/walk from Denver to San Francisco. Llewhellin is currently raising money for the Caldwell Trust, a U.K.-based charity that works with terminally ill children. But as much as for the children, Llewhellin has been running to benefit himself.

For Llewhellin, the alarm rang 11 years ago when he was a 15-year-old student in the small town of Haverfordwest, Wales. He and his schoolmates hit the cross country course for a two-mile run. Llewhellin hit the wall.

“I couldn’t do it. I stopped,” he said. “I could just manage to walk across. I had very low self-esteem. I wanted to be a car mechanic, but I didn’t think I could do that. I didn’t get good grades in school; I didn’t pay attention.”

Figuring he “couldn’t do anything else,” a 16-year-old Llewhellin followed several friends into the army. There, he started paying attention to his life. After a stint in theRoyal Artillery – despite its name, one of the lower rungs in the British Army – Llewhellin applied for a spot in the junior commandos, a stepping stone toward an elite military unit.

“The sergeant majors laughed their heads off, because I was one of the unfittest. I was in the back of the squad,” said Llewhellin.

But Llewhellin had been turned on to the distinctly American school of self-help thinking, in particular the writings of Zig Ziglar. Pumped up on positive thinking, Llewhellin trained for four months, six days a week. Eventually, he finished in the top 10 of the company, earning a spot in the junior commandos. After further training and continued self-help reading, he became a Green Beret commando, part of an elite force of the army.

Last year, having been out of the army for a year, Llewhellin took part with 500 others in a six-day, 141-mile run through the Sahara Desert. Temperatures averaged between 110 and 120 degrees and spiked up to 146. But for Llewhellin, who now lives in the seaside capital city of Cardiff, the Rocky Mountains have been a tougher haul.

“I come from sea level,” he said. “The altitude here has really smacked me. Worse than the Sahara. The Sahara, I could just run all of it.”

The solo trek in the Rockies has also brought more pleasure than last year’s desert run. Spurred on in part by the American self-help industry, Llewhellin has had a warmth for the U.S. for several years. And after seeing the comedy film “Dumb and Dumber,” where low-class idiots played by Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels head to Aspen (although it was filmed in Breckenridge), Llewhellin has had his eye on the beauty and reputation of the Rockies.

He hasn’t been disappointed, in the states or in Aspen. Arriving in Denver with just $150, Llewhellin says he has “hardly had to put his hand in his pocket at all” over the last week. Upon coming over Independence Pass, before even reaching downtown Aspen, a local family had pulled him inside for a meal and a washing, and he was offered a free room in a downtown lodge.

“I love America. The reason I’m here is because of the Americans,” said Llewhellin, who first came to the states two years ago to support a man who ran 200 miles across Death Valley. “If it wasn’t for the Americans – the positive attitude, the self-help stuff – I wouldn’t have gotten my thinking to a level that I could overcome this.

“I also like reading autobiographies of successful people – movie stars, pop stars, business people, whatever. What I’ve found is these people don’t just launch into their success. They have specific goals, and they follow through with tremendous determination to get to where they are.”

Llewhellin has already determined his next major goal. Next year, he plans to run across the states, hoping to raise $1 million for children’s charities. Beyond that, he would like to become a public speaker and author and wants to live in the United States. But Llewhellin, who works as a personal fitness trainer in Cardiff, has already crossed the most significant hurdle – believing in himself. Asked if he still has any problems with self-esteem, he says, “No, totally not.

“One of my friends, a lawyer, as I was leaving, said he thought I was the most confident person he knew,” said Llewhellin.


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