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MEEKER I Phil Dawson’s cross-country journey combines two of his greatest passions: Horses and raising money for families of children with long-term illnesses who need or have gone through an organ transplant.
“I ride for organ transplant children,” said Dawson, whose journey took him through Meeker last week. “I’m trying to both raise awareness and money.”
Dawson, 59, set out on his 7,500-mile trip, which will take him one and a half years, on June 5 from his home in Jerome, Idaho.
“I hope by a year from Christmas, I’d like to be home,” he said.
Dawson hopes to reach Texas by wintertime.
“I can cover 75 to 100 miles a week,” he said. “I run five days a week, and I set down two.”
But a leg injury to one of his horses — he travels with three horses — slowed him down. During his time in Meeker, he stayed at the Rio Blanco County Fairgrounds, where he stalled his horses.
Asked where he spent the night, Dawson pointed to a stall.
“It doesn’t matter (where he stays),” he said. “Sometimes people say, ‘Come on over and take a shower, wash your clothes and stay in the back bedroom.’ I’ve stayed just about everywhere.”
Bill Jordan, the manager of the Rio Blanco County Fairgrounds, said Dawson was no trouble at all, though “somebody caught him taking a bath in one of the troughs.”
Jordan didn’t require Dawson to pay for staying at the fairgrounds.
“I didn’t charge him,” Jordan said. “Anybody who wants to ride a horse (across country) ought to get it for nothing.”
Last week’s layover was Dawson’s first time in Meeker. He arrived in town last Tuesday and planned to head back out on the road the first part of this week. He is paying his way as he goes, often thanks to cash donations.
“I came into town with $10 in my pocket and I have a few cans of beans left,” he said. “But people will come up to me when they see me in the newspaper and hand me $20.”
Dawson has a website for his fundraising efforts, called America Fundraisers, where his progress can be tracked.
“They can track me and see where I am every day,” he said. “They can also go to our website and make a donation. That money, basically 100 percent, goes to the kids. I don’t take a paycheck.”
The online address is www.americafundraisers.org, where people can make donations through PayPal. Contributions by check can be sent to: America Fundraisers Inc., 1110 Five Mile Road, Boise, ID 83713.
Dawson has a goal of $3 million for this trip. He has made previous fundraising trips on horseback.
“That’s my job, to get publicity for the kids,” he said. “The more people who know what I’m doing, the more people will go on the website and help the kids.
“These families go through bankruptcy and divorce over these medical expenses and the kids go through depression, because they can’t do what other kids do,” he said. “I set this up so we could help with those kinds of things.”
Dawson knows firsthand what it’s like to be sick, which led to his idea to raise money “for the kids.”
Five years ago, Dawson “came down with cancer,” he said. He underwent surgery for stomach cancer.
“When I came home, I couldn’t do anything, so I got on the computer,” he said. “I started looking at kids and illnesses. Because I was sick, I couldn’t even walk to town two miles away. I couldn’t even get up on a horse.”
And that’s saying something. Dawson has been riding horses since he was 5 years old.
As far as his surgery, “They say they got it,” Dawson said of the cancer. Results of a blood test in February came back negative.
Dawson has trained horses for a living, as well as done blacksmith work and “in slow times, I might go drive a truck,” he said.
His philosophy with horses is simple: Love, respect and trust with leadership.
“And believe it or not, it works with people, too,” he said.