Cross-country runner raises awareness of rare diseases

  • Published
  • By Lee Ross
  • Nucleus editor
Noah Coughlan, who has never served in the military or as a police officer, has received countless thanks for his service to the country.

His visit to Kirtland was no different. He took a few hours off from a 3,100-mile run across America to attend Kirtland's Summer Bash event on Friday.

This trip -- his third time running across the country -- is to raise awareness of rare diseases. And Coughlan is doing it the hard way: on his own, pushing an 80-pound jogging stroller full of supplies. He runs an average of 25 miles a day.

Attached to the cart is a large American flag given to him by the United States Air Force that was flown over Iraq.

While he calls himself a spokesman for those with rare diseases, he said he also wants to honor the people he has met along the way, who he said are an inspiration.

"I'm also running for America, for the American people," he said. "Everyone has a story."

Coughlan dedicated his run on Friday to Air Force veteran and Rio Rancho police officer Gregg Benner, who was killed while on duty at around 8 p.m. May 25 after making a traffic stop.

The day before Coughlan stopped at Kirtland, June 4, thousands came to the Santa Ana Star Center arena in Rio Rancho to pay their last respects to Benner.

Coughlan has a long beard and wears knee and ankle braces due to "wear and tear" from running. He said is encouraged by the people he meets and finds evidence that he is touching people's lives everywhere he goes.

Even while he sat on a park bench at Hardin Field for a short interview, Master Sgt.  Julie Woodruff -- whose daughter, Katrina, 14, has a rare disease -- approached Coughlan to thank him for shedding some light on the plight of those in her position.

Woodruff said that Katrina was born with a condition called bladder exstrophy, which is a congenital issue caused by a defect in the abdominal wall. It affects one in
10,000 to 50,000 people, according to information from Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

Woodruff hopes increased awareness could lead to better pain management and information for those who care for children with similar conditions, she said.

Chief Master Sgt. Brion Blais also approached Coughlan. Blais, who is Kirtland's command chief master sergeant for the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center and the
377th Air Base Wing, said seeing people give their time and talents to help others is an inspiration for those in the military.

"You are sharing the burden across a lot of people," he told Coughlan. "Thank you for your service."

There are more than 6,800 rare diseases that collectively affect 25 million to 30 million Americans, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office
of Rare Diseases Research.

Coughlan made his first run in 2011 to generate awareness of a neurological disorder  called Batten disease. He made that journey due to his concern for his childhood  friends, Catie and Annie Allio of California, who were both diagnosed with Batten disease. He ran again in 2013, then hit the road again this year starting in New York on Feb. 28.

He'll end the trip on July 4 in his hometown of San Diego.

"I'll take the flag and run straight into the ocean," he said.

Coughlan will become the third person to make three trips across America on foot. He is working with Luminous Pictures to make a documentary about his trip that will premiere in 2016.

To learn more about the trip, or to follow Coughlan, go to