For many people around the world, embracing the natural beauty in our oceans, lakes and rivers has become an increasingly difficult feat. Glistening waters have become ambushed by plastic, effectively reducing various aquatic populations and contaminating the world’s water supply.
Most people understand the severity of the situation. But few have done something about it.
So when senior tennis player Sam Bencheghib recognized the way the once-exquisite oceans surrounding his home country, Indonesia, were becoming decimated by pollution, he decided to take action.
In 2009, Bencheghib and his older brother, Gary, co-founded Make a Change World, an organization dedicated to promoting sustainability as well as solutions and innovations to plastic. Fueled by the power of storytelling, the company shares one- to two-minute videos promoting eco-friendly initiatives with the hope of inspiring its viewers to live a more sustainable life.
Bencheghib has worked on several projects with his brother overseas. But with graduation approaching, he decided he wanted to make an impact in the United States.
And he wanted to do it on his own.
In January, Bencheghib was struck with the idea to run across America, from Los Angeles to New York, to raise awareness about plastic pollution and its effect on oceans. Starting on June 8, Bencheghib has committed to running 20 miles a day for 140 days. Along the way, he plans to host education sessions at schools, universities and town halls as well as organize street and city cleanups and community gatherings to influence involvement from everyone.
Bencheghib said he understands the magnitude of his task but recognizes that taking the boldest risks often reaps the greatest benefits.
“I came up with this idea, and I know it’s crazy,” Bencheghib said. “But I realized you have to do crazy things to get people’s attention.”
So when he told his team and coaches about his plan, he was unsurprisingly met with shock. Senior teammate and fellow captain Christopher Auteri said the team was in awe after realizing the extent of Bencheghib’s mission.
But they were never dubious.
“We were all really excited and mostly in disbelief,” Auteri said. “It’s absolutely crazy how long it is, but we know if there’s anyone who’s going to do it, it’s going to be Sam.”
Since Bencheghib broke the news to the team, Auteri said everyone has made efforts to support him. The locker room is no longer canvassed in plastic water bottles, and teammates frequently join Bencheghib on his training runs to provide constant motivation. Auteri said some of the players are even planning to run alongside him when he passes through their towns over the summer.
In preparing for the physical demands of his venture, Bencheghib said he runs almost every day and has been trying to run twice a day as often as possible because he won’t typically be completing 20 miles at a time over the summer.
His final season on the tennis team, which ended with a loss against Army West Point (4-1) in the semifinals of the Patriot League Tournament, also contributed to his training. Coach Wouter Hendrix said the team implemented more conditioning this year than ever before and emphasized the importance of flexibility for injury prevention.
Hendrix said Bencheghib’s work ethic on the court reflects his persistence and fortitude, which he believes will serve as invaluable attributes for completing his run.
“Sam is one of the, if not the, hardest working guys on the team,” Hendrix said. “He’s a very patient and committed guy and understands that sometimes you have to take a step back before you can take two steps forward. He never takes any short cuts.”
Over four months and 2,760 miles stand between Bencheghib and the finish line. Although a few weeks remain before he embarks on his expedition, Bencheghib has already begun making an impact.
“I wish there were more people like him that make this kind of sacrifice and commit to this kind of goal of saving our planet,” Hendrix said.
With a reliable support system, a dedicated work ethic and a clear vision, nothing is holding Bencheghib back.