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Alumnus Clayton Kearl says he ran 1,567 miles along Peruvian coast to combat littering

BYUH Alumnus Clayton Kearl runs with Peruvians next to piles of rubbish

A love for his “home away from home” and a desire to do good set BYU–Hawaii alumnus Clayton Kearl on the path to run all of Peru’s coast. In 115 days, Kearl, who graduated in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in business management, ran 1,567 miles, stopping to conduct trash pickups along the way. Now finished, he hopes to turn his run into a documentary to compete at the Sundance Film Festival.

“Culturally, in a lot of places, it is totally normal to throw trash out the window. As a missionary, you don’t have to worry about making a living, but when I was playing with my band, I saw more of the reality. In Peru, there is no big process for trash, and it’s normal to litter.”

He added a story about a family of nine who got on the bus when it had stopped. The father had bought his family snacks, which were packaged in disposable plastic. As soon as the kids were finished, the father threw the litter out the bus window.

“Normally, I would be upset at something like that, but this was an ‘a-ha’ moment. To these people, it’s a normal thing to litter, and the dad just taught his whole family what was normal.”

Pick up your trash

“A lot of people ask ‘You’re an American who loves Peru. Cool! But what do you do for Peru?’ That made me want to give back. So, I started ‘Chapa Tu Basara,’ which is Peruvian slang for ‘snatch your trash.’ Basically, telling you to pick up your trash.”

Through Kickstarter, Kearl raised funds necessary to finance his run. Expenses included advertising, buying shoes, the right clothing, food and filming his entire journey with a cameraperson and audio-visual technician. He needed to live for the estimated 120 days it would take to complete the run.

On the first day, May 20, starting at the border of Peru and Ecuador, Kearl ran 10 miles, and 17 more the next day. Kearl made his way down the coast with a camera crew and a driver driving alongside him for when he was done running for the day, stopping 24 times for community cleanups.

“The idea was for me to run the coast and raise awareness and spread the message however I could, whether it be through social media, radio interviews, anything.”

For the cleanups, Kearl would ask his Peruvian followers to go out and find a place heavily affected by littering, and he would lead a cleanup of that area. In the end, the cleanups picked up a total of 63 tons of trash, with 3,600 volunteers in total.

An athlete’s inspiration

When BYUH had a sports programs, Kearl had played soccer and run cross-country under the coaching of Kevin Schlag. While doing in what he described as “a little bit of everything” in Peru, he began a YouTube channel and became a social media influencer through his Instagram, which has over 100,000 followers, and Facebook pages entitled “Gr3ngasho.”

Schlag, BYUH’s chief information officer and Kearl’s former coach, said, “Clayton was the kind of runner who would give it all. I remember for the conference championship one year, he got very sick the morning of the race, but he still did his best and then ran right past the finish line to the bathroom.

“He had a great attitude about practice and loved whatever workout we had planned. He always encouraged everyone to do their best. He even has a trail in the mountains named after him,” Schlag shared.

In 2017, Kearl moved back to Hawaii to live with some friends while he made more content for his YouTube and social media pages. “One day, I picked up a magazine and I read about a surfer who paddle boarded from every island in Hawaii, one at a time.

“Every time he arrived on one of the islands, he did a beach cleanup and raised awareness about the danger of plastics in the ocean.”

Before moving back to Hawaii, Kearl had driven from Utah to the bottom of South America in his van. On the drive, he stayed for a few months in Peru, which he treated as his home away from home. “It was an emotional moment for me. The people, the culture, and the food all mean so much to me. After driving for six months and arriving in Peru, it felt like a celebration.

“As soon as I got to Lima, which is halfway through the country on the coast, I decided to spend two months in Lima. A lot of my videos went viral, and I got interviewed by a lot of news stations. I then drove from Lima to my mission city of Arequipa.

“The drive was beautiful. It reminded me of driving on the Pacific Highway in California. The way I took to Arequipa was basically Peru’s Pacific Highway. It was carved into the mountains and cliffs. There are parts where the ocean is just crashing alongside this highway. It was really spiritual for me, and the drive, which is 18 hours, gave me a lot of time to think.”

After the drive, Kearl shared how remembering the emotional connection he had with Peru gave him the inspiration to run the Peruvian coast one day. He resolved to run the coast, but to do it for a cause.

A reason for the run

After getting his interest piqued by the story about the man who paddle boarded between the Hawaiian Islands, Kearl thought back to an experience of when he moved back to Peru and was playing professional soccer while playing in a band outside of sports. “When I was in a band, we would travel to the interior parts of Peru. The cities in Peru have crazy-good internet, fancy cars, but you go into the interior of the country, and some parts don’t even have running water.

“We would do these concerts in the interior, and I would see the reality. I would see people eat food out of disposable packaging on the bus, and as soon as they were done, they would chuck the bags out the window. It disappeared for them, but in reality, it doesn’t.

Kearl decided to take the inspiration and make a difference. “As a YouTuber, in order to make money and stay relevant, I need to create new content on a regular basis. I decided to sacrifice my platform to raise awareness against littering for the country I love.”

In 115 days, Kearl ran the entire coast of Peru, clocking in at 1,567 miles. Comparatively, the distance from Miami to New York on the East Coast is only 1,200 miles.

Now that his run has come to an end, Kearl said he plans to turn the footage shot into a documentary, hoping to premiere it at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. “We got everything recorded, even the moments when I was threatened with a gun, or the moment where I almost got deported.”