Running for a record and a cause: Michael McKnight takes on the Arizona Trail

HJ News (October 14, 2022) by Shawn Harrison

Michael McKnight is at it again.

The Cache Valley ultra runner is taking on the Arizona Trail, beginning this weekend. While he wants to beat the FKT (fastest known time) for the 800-mile trail that runs from the Utah-Arizona border to the Mexico-Arizona border, McKnight is also running for Marianne.

He wants to help find Marianne a family. She is an orphan living in Columbia.

“She has been in an orphanage her entire life, and is at the age where she may be phased out soon,” McKnight said of Marianne. “This means she’ll get moved to an adult mental institution, where she’ll have to be for the rest of her life. So time is of the essence.”

Marianne has Down syndrome. McKnight works and runs for RODS Heros, an organization that helps orphan children around the world with Down syndrome get adopted. The founders of RODS Heros – Brady and Andrea Murray – are Cache Valley natives who now live in Utah County.

This isn’t the first time the Smithfield resident has run for an orphan. McKnight believes the publicity helps draw attention and raise money for the adoption. RODS Heros helps families find orphans with Down syndrome to adopt.

“I have two goals when I run for these children,” McKnight said. “To raise awareness that this is a real problem. That families abandon their children simply because they have Down syndrome. The other goal is to raise enough money for that child so a financial burden is lifted off a family’s shoulders. Adoption can range from $30,000 to $40,000, and I believe that more families would step forward if they had some help with the financial side.”

When McKnight is doing these long races for a cause, he takes a picture of them along for the adventure. This time will be no different.

“I will have a picture of her in my pack,” McKnight said. “I’ll be carrying her every step of the journey.”

In these long races, how much does it help him when he is also doing it for an orphan?

“It helps a ton,” McKnight said. “I try to remind myself that these children have had to endure so much more than me. That if they can spend the first 11 years of their lives in an orphanage, without forever families, then I can push myself to do things that seem physically impossible.”

McKnight is well known for pushing his body to extremes. He has won the Triple Crown of 200’s twice, set the FKT for the Colorado trail that is nearly 500 miles long and ran 100 miles without consuming any calories, just to list some of his accomplishments.

“The main reason I picked Marianne is because of her age,” McKnight said. “Marrianne is 12 years old and currently in Columbia. Usually around the age or 13 or 14, these children phase out of their orphanage and it essentially becomes impossible for them to be adopted.”

When asked about how someone can find out more information, McKnight quickly said: “Reach out to RODS Heroes. They have an amazing team who can help walk them through the adoption process. Their team can be reached at”

If someone isn’t at a place in life where they can adopt, they can still help. McKnight said spreading the word and “telling everyone about Marianne” is what he is trying to accomplish.

“Donations help lift that financial burden off of potential families’ shoulders,” McKnight said. “And talking about her helps increase her chances of finding her family.”

McKnight will be racing against just one other ultra runner in this showdown – his good friend Ben Light. They came up with the idea during a 300-mile run two years ago, where they did the Bear 100 backwards, then ran another 100 miles and finally finished off what they called the BRAWL 300 (Bear River and Wasatch Linkup) by doing the Wasatch 100 course.

“Ben mentioned how it would be fun to run it from opposite ends and race each other,” McKnight said. “Once he said that, we kept thinking about how cool of a concept that was and ended up deciding to go after the FKT while doing it. It was a two-year plan in the making.”

There was a coin toss this past Monday and Light won. He got to pick the direction, choosing south to north. That left McKnight going south from the Utah border, near Kanab. McKnight did get to choose the start time, which will be Saturday at 8 a.m. PST.

“If all goes well, we’ll pass each other somewhere in the middle,” McKnight said.

McKnight will go through the Grand Canyon, then toward Flagstaff, Arizona. The trail mostly stays in the mountains east of all the major cities, including Sedona, Phoenix and Tucson. Websites state it takes six to seven weeks to hike the entire trail. The current record for the supported 800-mile trail is 13 days, 3 hours, 27 minutes.

“I’m aiming for just below that, which would put me finishing on or before the 27th of October,” McKnight said. “The biggest thing is raising awareness for Marianne.”

The progress of McKnight and Light can be tracked on


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