Finishing the longest track and field race in the Olympics takes perseverance.
Same with finishing the journey toward becoming an Eagle Scout.
Just ask John Nunn — one of the few to have done both. Nunn, 38, is an Eagle Scout who will compete in Friday’s 50-kilometer race walk at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. He’s the only American in the race.
And get this: Nunn says the traits and skills he acquired in Scouting helped prepare him to compete in what will be his third Olympic Games (2004, 2012 and 2016).
Race walking, according to U.S. Track and Field, is a lower-impact form of movement that’s gaining in worldwide popularity. Unlike running, where there are moments where neither foot is touching the ground, race walking requires the competitor to maintain contact with the ground at all times.
The leading leg must be “straightened as the foot makes contact with the ground” and “remain straightened until the leg passes under the body.” Judges watch the racers and report fouls.
Though there are longer cycling races, no Olympics race completed entirely on foot is longer than the 50K race walk. Racers travel more than 31 miles — longer even than the marathon.
The sport’s name can be deceiving; this is no walk along Copacabana beach.
The 50K race walk world record, set by a Frenchman in 2014, is 3 hours, 32 minutes, 33 seconds. If you’ve ever run a competitive 5K, consider this: That pace is the equivalent of finishing a 5K in 21 minutes, 15 seconds … and then doing nine more 5Ks at the same pace.
A strong Scouting foundation
Nunn earned Eagle in 1992 and says his favorite Scout memories were summer weeks spent at Camp Alexander in Lake George, Colo.
For his Eagle project, Nunn collected more than 2 tons of clothing and goods for a small community in Russia.
Growing up, he made time to compete in cross-country races and be a Boy Scout. He thanks his parents and his Scoutmaster for keeping him pointed toward the finish line.
“The two go hand in hand,” Nunn says of balancing Scouting and athletics. “You learn how to manage time and make both priorities. There is enough time in the day for both.”
Nunn says that he learned perseverance while completing requirements toward the Eagle Scout award — a trait that helps him compete in a race that lasts more than three hours.
“The traits and skills you acquire while in Scouting will only set you up for success in anything you go after later in life,” he says. “Do all you can to get your Eagle, as that ability to persevere to the end will be a quality that will make you stand out among your peers.”
Nunn says Scouting helped make him the man he is today. A man who is friendly, courteous and kind — as anyone who follows his adventures on Twitter can see.
“The biggest asset I took away from my time in Scouting is serving those around you and treating others in a manner that your mother would be proud of,” he says. “The world needs more kindness today, and that is a major attribute that Scouts taught me.”
How to watch John Nunn
No American has medaled in the 50K race walk since 1972. Will Nunn end the drought?
Coverage of the race begins at 7 a.m. EDT on Friday, Aug. 19. You can watch it live online.