We LIVE for stories of perseverance, grittiness, and determination. We hear them all the time from racers in our community, but we also love to report on inspirational, badass stories from OUTSIDE the Spartan Universe — stories that we can learn from, that can help us become even more unbreakable. In Tough News, we share what we're hearing, why it's important, and why Spartans need to pay attention.
After years of planning and training — beginning with mini walks at age 2 — 5-year-old Harvey Sutton became one of the youngest people ever to thru-hike the entire Appalachian Trail when he and his parents, Josh and Cassie Sutton, completed the hike in Maine this August.
NPR reports that the Lynchburg, Va., family began the 2,193-mile, 14-state hike in Springer Mountain, Ga., in January of 2021 when Harvey was just 4 years old. His parents — both real estate agents, according to wfaa.com — began the expedition as a mini retirement trip, but hadn't anticipated just how well Harvey would respond to the challenge.
"It started out as a joke and we decided maybe that could be our mini retirement and hike the Appalachian Trail with Harvey," Josh Sutton told NPR. "We started training [him] at a young age to hike and camp and he took on to it really well."
After 209 days of waking up before 6 a.m., packing their tents and gear, and hiking for up to 10 hours — along with celebrating Harvey's fifth birthday out on the trail — the Suttons summited Maine’s Mount Katahdin, where the journey was officially complete. Despite many modern families being unable to shake their children from constant screen time, Harvey's mother told NPR that the most difficult part of the trip was not the physical demands, but keeping her son, who has become known as "Little Man" by fellow hikers, mentally occupied and stimulated.
"I think a lot of people are surprised at how well he did," Cassie Sutton said in an interview with NPR. "They're like, 'How did you get your 5-year-old to do that, because my 5-year-old won't even walk half a mile without complaining?' Everyone is pretty amazed and astounded."
Along the way, Harvey's parents kept him occupied by pointing out different types of wildlife and keeping him fueled with plenty of carbs, wfaa.com reports. Little Man made plenty of friends along the way, receiving a pet rock, a pocket watch, and Hot Wheels from other thru-hikers.
Perhaps it was Harvey's home-building plans or his dreams of constructing spaceships and hosting a lava party — or just the Skittles and peanut butter tortillas that the younger hiker told wfaa.com were "fun" to eat along the way — that kept him so motivated. Regardless, Karl Donus Sakas, a fellow hiker known as "Sugar Man" who joined the Suttons in Pennsylvania to finish out the hike with them (and who helped set up a trail treasure hunt for Harvey), said the boy had relentless amounts of energy, even after the toughest days.
“He’s pretty strong and tough," Sakas told wfaa.com. "So often we’d get to camp and I'd be beaten and tired. And Little Man would say, ‘Let’s play freeze tag!’”
On Aug. 9, 2021, Harvey joined many others who have been recognized as one of the "firsts" to complete the entire Appalachian Trail, including Juniper Netteberg — whose parents say that she completed the trail in a Wonder Woman costume at age 4 in October of 2020 — Nimblewill Nomad, a long-distance hiker who, at age 82, has hiked the trail two times and will soon become the new oldest person to complete the feat, and Dale “Greybeard” Sanders, the previous oldest record-holder who praised Harvey's dedication.
“It’s going to change his life forever, and his parents’ life, too," Sanders told wfaa.com. "The kid went through some hardships, but don’t we all? Hardships make us stronger. That kid is going to smile through life.”
Now back home in Virginia and preparing for Harvey's next big challenge, kindergarten, the resilient kid's parents told the Associated Press that attacking the daunting challenge as a family has brought them all together.
"We're closer than ever before," Cassie Sutton said.