Just passing through: Denniss stops in Punxsy on way to world record

PUNXSUTAWNEY — On Jan. 1, Australian Tom Denniss officially set out on the first leg of a journey that literally no man or woman has ever completed – running around the world, and doing so following the Guinness Book of World Records' guidelines – and nearly 10 months later, his journey carried him through the Weather Capital of the World.

Denniss’ run is an effort to raise money for Oxfam – an international confederation of 17 different organizations banded together in 90 countries, “as a part of a global movement for change, to build a future free from the injustice of poverty.” Oxfam works with communities to ensure that poor people have a say in decisions affecting their livelihood, according to the organization’s website.

In addition to raising money for Oxfam, though, Tom also had to be motivated by something else to try this never-before-achieved goal, and in his words, he thought running around the world “sounded like a great adventure.”

As far as following the Guinness guidelines goes, he said it just seemed to make sense to follow the guidelines someone else had already set.

“When I researched it a bit, I saw their guidelines and figured, rather than make up my own rules, I might as well follow their rules. That way, it would become a world record, as well.”

The Guinness guidelines are as follows:

• Start and finish at the same place;

• Always maintain an easterly or westerly component in the direction you are heading;

• Pass through two antipodal points (any two places that are on exactly opposite sides of the Earth from each other)

• Cover 18,000 miles on foot

In addition to the Guinness guidelines, Denniss adds a few of his own on his blog: “I will run on every continent other than Antarctica; I will endeavor to run in as many countries as possible; and I will be spanning as wide a range of latitudes as possible, from equatorial to polar regions.”

Over the course of his journey, Denniss will run what will be the equivalent of 700 marathons in 700 days — more than 18,000 miles in all — and when completed, it will give him the record for “Fastest Circumnavigation of the Earth on Foot.”

The run will touch every continent except Antarctica and more than 20 countries.

Tom's journey started at home, where he left from the Sydney Opera House with a warm-up leg that took him to Bondi Beach on New Year's Eve, 2011.

The first leg of his mapped trip covered New Zealand, and now, he is on the longest leg of the trip, which started in San Francisco in mid-February.

While he is determined to finish his route, Denniss also pointed out that he figured if he was going to take such a trek, he should take in the sights of the areas he's spanning, too.

“I'll finish this leg in Boston, but I'm not heading directly to Boston,” he said. “I'm headed up to Niagara Falls, then across New York. It's not a direct route, but I wanted to see some of the country's highlights, like the Grand Canyon and such. I figured if you're going to do something like this, you might as well.”

In a press release intended for the North American leg of his trip, Denniss said, “Most people, when they travel, only see a very small part of the world around them. I'll be doing it all at a much slower pace, not just seeing the ever-changing countryside, but hearing and smelling it too.”

In that light, Denniss said that Punxsutawney wasn't just a random stop on his trip, but one of the areas he intentionally wanted to visit.

“I wanted to come through Punxsutawney because I'd heard about it before,” he said. “Sometimes, in Sydney, when we hear the nightly news, we'd hear Phil's report that winter was over or that it'd be another six weeks. So, I thought it'd be nice to come through and take a look.”

Denniss also added that the western Pennsylvania region, though not the simplest terrain, has been a treat to experience in itself.

“The general region is great for running,” he said. “It's a little hilly, of course, but on some of the back roads, it's just an amazing landscape. And running this time of year, you get to see some of the beautiful landscapes. By the time I get to Boston, I think the trees will be in full color.”

Tom's wife, Carmel, is along for the trip as well, serving as Tom's support crew. Through her gift of photography, she has been the eyes that add to her husband's daily blog posts, and she added that she's excited to see what kind of photos she can snap of Tom running in the beautiful changing of the colors.

Bright and early Tuesday morning, Denniss set out for his next destination, and while a trip like this takes much planning, he said he and Carmel really take it day-by-day.

“We plan about a day ahead,” he said. “For instance, I've been debating about where to go today. I believe we've decided on Clarion, but it's just better to take it day-by-day.”

While the thought of running to Clarion from Punxsy is intimidating to many, Tom said that while it's a bit longer than his usual,“it's only 34 miles.”

Denniss said that the most important thing about his run is spreading awareness for Oxfam and its work.

“It's an international charity that helps third-world countries become more self-sufficient and independent. Since I was running around the world, I wanted to do something outside of Australia that helped people across the world. It's a great cause, and they don't just give handouts. I'm really most interested in people knowing about the organization. The raising of the money is one thing, but the raising of the profile is important as well, just letting people know what they do.”

Throughout the duration of his journey, Denniss' progress can be followed on his website and blog at tomsnextstep.com.

He also has a Twitter page, a Facebook page and a link to make donations to Oxfam on the site.