Man Walks Across Florida From Atlantic To Gulf To Celebrate Birthday

FLORIDA — To celebrate his most recent birthday, a Madeira Beach man completed a walk across the state, starting at Fort Pierce and ending his 152.88-mile journey in Siesta Key on March 23.

Sheldon Blake made his first attempt on Jan. 3 with the goal of being the first person to walk across Florida in 50 hours without sleeping or stopping.

As with all of his endeavors, he didn’t train for the walk. And after a quick swim in the Atlantic Ocean at Fort Pierce, he hit the road, hoping that despite the lack of preparation he could make it to the Gulf of Mexico.

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“I ended up making it 40.4 miles and 16 hours and 53 minutes of walking, and then my knees gave out,” the man who won’t share his age told Patch. “So, it was done. I couldn’t move. It was over. There was no stopping and I mean just a straight walk, no sleeping, no stopping for food, just literally walking.”

Blake was disappointed with how the walk ended, but immediately decided he needed to finish what he started.

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“I realized my birthday was March 23 and I said, ‘I’ve got to finish this walk now or never. It’s gonna get too hot,’” he said. “It was already like 94, 97 degrees during the walk, which is just brutal. Headaches, like it was bad. Some low moments.”

Days before his birthday, he picked up where he left off in January, in Okeechobee with about 110 miles left to go, mostly along State Road 70.

“And so, I did it again. I started walking and I went from Okeechobee to Lake Placid, Lake Placid to Arcadia,” Blake said. “Arcadia to Sarasota through Myakka State Park down (State Road) 72, cut over to 72.”

He added, “Finish what I started was the whole thing.”

But he nearly didn’t make it again. With 13 miles left to his trek, his knees gave out.

“It was like crying, excruciating pain,” he said. “I couldn’t bend them. I couldn’t move. I thought it was over again. But I told myself, ‘I gotta do it. You just got to keep going and going and going.’ If I needed to, I would have stayed there a month if I couldn’t walk for a month until I finished. I was not leaving until I finished.”

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He was determined, and as he finished his walk, Blake had an emotional moment when his father greeted him in Siesta Key. Then, he jumped in the water to end his long trek with another swim.

“My feet stepped on every foot of concrete and sand across the whole state,” he said. “I started by swimming in the Atlantic and I finished by swimming in the Gulf of Mexico.”

While the walk was physically difficult, it was also mentally challenging. While he was followed by a documentary filmmaker who sometimes took footage of his travels and occasionally joined by others for short pieces of the walk, he was largely alone on the road.

“During the whole walk, in January and March, I didn’t see one other human walking. No bicycle, no skateboard,” he said. “A lot of my walk was at night. So, towns I went through were shut down and I didn’t see anybody else walking on the road.”

The night he completed the walk, he threw himself a birthday bash at Nova 535 in downtown St. Petersburg. Blake wouldn’t share his age, saying that he keeps it a secret to motivate others.

“I want to be as old or as young as people think they want me to be,” he said. “I don’t want people to think they’re too old or too young to ever do anything.”

His journey really started in January 2022, when he ran the St. Pete Beach Classic Half Marathon.

He won a dance competition at the 5K race in 2020, which earned him free entry to a future event. The 2021 race was canceled, though, because of the pandemic and he forgot all about it. But when he saw an email for the 2022 half-marathon the day before the race, he decided to sign up.

Again, Blake, who admits he isn’t very athletic, entered the half-marathon without any preparation or training.

“No training. My whole business motto is just show up and see what happens,” he said. “No training. Just show up to the start line. Get a pair of shows.”

His knees gave out during that half-marathon and he had to abandon the race.

“Game over. I couldn’t complete it. I was done. Dead in the water,” he said. “I was pretty pissed off I couldn’t do it. I felt like a failure.”

At the time, he weighed about 41 pounds more than he does now, which he thinks contributed to his knee problems. After the St. Pete Beach Classic, he decided he would try to lose the weight.

“But not working out. No gym, no running,” he said. “Just normal living. I can’t run. I can’t do anything for this whole timeframe. I just ate healthier, cleaner and tried different things to see if it helped, like fasting, 20 hours of no eating, four hours of eating, to try to get under to lose weight.”

Two weeks after his knees first gave out, he saw an advertisement for another marathon in Celebration, Florida. It was a highly rated race with a good afterparty, so he decided to sign up.

He ran the marathon on Jan. 30, 2022 — despite his knee issues — completing it in 5 hours and 58 minutes.

“As soon as I crossed the finish line, I’m like, ‘What’s next?’” Blake said.

So, he signed up for the April 2022 St. Anthony’s Triathlon in St. Petersburg.

“The next thing you know, I’m doing an Olympic-distance triathlon,” he said. “And I just showed up for that, too.”

After each event, he wanted to challenge himself further, he said. “I wanted it to always get harder and more difficult.”

After the triathlon, came a May 2022 Half Ironman competition in Tennessee, which he completed in 7 hours and 32 minutes, followed by a triathlon at Fort DeSoto Park on Father’s Day of last year. And in June, he signed up for a full Ironman event in Maryland.

“That was a full, real deal,” Blake said. “I did that in 15 hours and 51 minutes. I believe that was the exact time and so I had an hour and 9 minutes to spare before the cutoff. You have 17 hours to do it.”

He added, “That’s 140.6 miles. That’s a 2.4-mile swim, followed by a 112-mile bike ride, and then a marathon, a 26.2-mile run. I did that and I just showed up.”

He connected online with singer Mike Posner, who also challenged himself with physical stunts, like walking across the United States by himself and climbing to the top of Mount Everest.

The Grammy-nominated artist invited Blake to join him at the Mount Everest Base Camp in October to scale the mountain.

“I think I went 18,000 feet and some change. That was the highest I went,” he said. “And 16 people signed up for the expedition, and only 10 people made it up and made it back down. Six people were helicoptered out for personal reasons, medical reasons, evacuations. That was a pretty crazy experience to be a part of that.”

His reason for taking on all of these physical stunts is two-fold: to inspire others and to bring purpose to his life.

“Everybody asks me why and the why was that I just didn’t have a purpose of living. I wasn’t suicidal and wanted to die, I just wasn’t living,” Blake said.

He hopes when people follow him on social media or hear about his feats, they’ll think about their own purpose.

“I’ve been provoking people for the past year with the question of ‘Why are you living? What are you looking forward to? What do you live for?’ And I get, ‘Oh, I’m living for retirement. I’m living to watch my grandkids grow up,’” he said. “But nobody to this day really has given me an answer of why they’re living. People just wake up every day because you’re supposed to; you’re not supposed to wake up and just kill yourself. But why are you living — l-i-v-i-n-g? Why are you living on Earth? For what reason? What’s your purpose?”

As for what’s next for Blake? With his walk across Florida behind him, he’s already considering his next move.

“I have a few ideas, but they’re just so far ludicrous, like farfetched, that they’re just like off the rocker,” he said. “These things are already pretty wild that I’ve done, but my other ideas are really just taking it to the next level.”

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