By Sarah Reinecke,
Nicole Hendershot says she is living the college student’s dream this summer, road tripping across the country.
Except Hendershot is not driving across the country; she is walking with eight other people from Seattle to Washington, D.C., as an anti-abortion protest and spreading the “gospel message of life.”
A group of walkers came through Hendershot’s hometown of Billings, Mont., two summers ago, and that is when she knew she wanted to be a part of spreading the anti-abortion message throughout the country.
“I’m very passionate about pro-life, and it just sounded like something that was right up my alley,” Hendershot said. “Just to be a peaceful witness to the dignity and sanctity of all human life from conception.”
Hendershot was waiting at the “support van” about 10 miles east of Sturgis with fellow walker Joe Brick, five miles ahead of where the other three walkers started about an hour before on Tuesday afternoon.
The three walkers, heading east on S.D. Highway 34, wore white T-shirts with bold black letters that spell “Pro Life.”
The group is part of Crossroads, a Catholic nonprofit anti-abortion organization. Erin Bertrand said they left Seattle on May 24 and intend to be in Washington on Aug. 16 for the anti-abortion rally in the nation’s capitol. Bertrand, a 20-year-old student at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., said her favorite part about the walk so far is the support they are receiving.
“It’s been really great to realize that this half of the country so far is pro-life,” Bertrand said. “It’s the support, it’s stuff like that that keeps us going.”
Nine people comprise the group: seven college students and two leaders, age 27 and 29.
Bertrand said the trip is teaching everyone to live simpler.
Each has two or three T-shirts and a couple pairs of shorts. “We kind of detach from worldly things,” she said. “It’s really nice to not have to worry about things.”
Hendershot said the group is funded entirely by the donations and support of people they meet on highways or in the parishes they stop and speak at on weekends.
That support pays for their gas and food, and sometimes gives them a place to stay.
Liz Ziarnowski, 21, of Buffalo, N.Y., said it is inspiring that people stop on the highway just because of the message on their T-shirts. Earlier in the day, Ziarnowski said, the Meade County sheriff’s wife had pulled up beside them and said she would try to find them a place to stay.
“Later, the sheriff pulled up and said, ‘If you continue walking another 20 miles, you will hit a church. The doors are unlocked for you, and we made spaghetti,'” Ziarnowski said. “So tonight, we will have a place to stay and food.”
Before finding the church, the group had planned to stay off the side of the highway or at a rest stop. They have an RV, and people walk in shifts, 24 hours a day, about 30 miles to each shift. The people walking Tuesday afternoon will meet up with the “night shift” at the church about 8 p.m., eat, and then the night shift will begin walking where the day shift left off.
Hendershot said the group was in Rapid City last weekend, speaking at parishes. Monday night, they looped back east and stayed at a Spearfish campground and started walking along Highway 34 from Sturgis on Tuesday morning. They will continue on that that route to Brookings, their next destination.
For Ziarnowski, the trip is not just about getting to Washington for the rally. It’s about the people she meets along the way.
“My mission is to change people’s hearts and minds about what we believe,” she said.
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