If you weren’t paying attention — and chances are you weren’t — you probably missed the story of the season for CPAs. In a summer filled with screaming headlines about racial tensions, ice bucket challenges and terrorist horror shows, you’d be forgiven.

But on Aug. 9, a lone CPA quietly strolled onto the beach in Ocean City, Md., and stepped into the surf of the Atlantic Ocean. In that moment, two coasts were connected and an epic cross-country journey came to a close.

Frank Ryan had made it.

The 62-year-old Business Learning Institute instructor had logged 148 days and 2,826 miles through 14 states as part of his “Walk Across America” to raise awareness for Good Shepherd Services, a non-profit organization that provides treatment and care for teens and young adults with developmental disabilities.

It was a demanding journey that tapped the depths of his physical endurance. In a span of a couple of weeks, Ryan moved from the cool March temperatures of Maryland to the mid-90s of Southern California, from the temperate conditions at an elevation of 4,000 feet to the scorching desert heat at 100 feet below sea level. Those extremes inflamed a serious case of arthritis in his ankle.

“I jokingly told people I was doing my Limp Across America,” Ryan said with a laugh.

In the end, though, the walk left him feeling better than ever.

“Physically, I have never felt as good in my entire life,” he said. “I never really appreciated the value of walking before, but it is one of the best things you can do.

“Emotionally,” he added, “getting it done, and seeing the level of support I received, and the fact that during the entire journey I had nothing but good experiences meant more to me than you can possibly imagine. The value of seeing that the American people are so good and decent was really invigorating. It made me realize there are some pretty wonderful people in this nation and we have an awful lot to be thankful for.”

Cases in point:

  • Ryan trudged, exhausted, into the Buckland Cafe and Auto Center (no joke — that’s the actual name of the joint) in Buckland, Kan., and sat down to order a meal. The waitress asked to hear his story and Ryan told it. “She looked at me and said, ‘You look really tired,’” Ryan recalled. “I said, ‘Yeah, I am.’ And she simply put her hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Have faith. You’re going to make it.’ That was the shot in the arm I needed. From that point on, there was no question in my mind that it was going to work out. That one act of kindness was absolutely phenomenal.”
     
  • As he made his way through eastern Kansas on his way to the Missouri border, Ryan crossed paths with a homeless man who, upon hearing his story, dug into his pocket and gave Ryan all of the money he had — about $10.46. As he handed Ryan his money, the man said, “This is for my daughter. I don’t know where she is. Give this to the kids at Good Shepherd, because I’m an example of why they are there in the first place.”

    “You could see this forlorn look in his eyes, as if he were saying, ‘I know I wasn’t the best dad in the world.’ To realize he gave me everything he had … it was very humbling,” Ryan said. “I saw that a lot. People who had very little would stop and offer everything they had. It was a great lesson in how much better you feel when you’re giving than when you’re receiving.”

Connections like those drove home the biggest lesson Ryan learned along his journey.

“I have absolutely lost all of my cynicism,” he said. “I used to jokingly tell people that as you get older, you become more cynical. That was certainly happening to me. But I did not run into one bad experience in the entire 148 days that I was on the road. I had nothing but positive comments from everyone. The positive value of the American people, the goodness of people who are extraordinarily poor, just absolutely convinced me of the genuine kindness and decency of people and the impact we can have in other people’s lives. That’s universal. What a great feeling to know that you’ve lost cynicism while regaining faith in the American people.”

Look for more about Ryan’s walk in the October edition of the The Statement, the MACPA’s member magazine.

In the meantime, it’s not too late to donate to the cause. Ryan estimates that more than $150,000 has been raised for the Good Shepherd Services mission, and he expects more to come in now that the walk is complete. Make your pledge to the “Walk Across America” here.

(Special thanks, by the way, to BLI instructor Karl Ahlrichs for providing the great photo of Ryan arriving in Ocean City.)

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