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Longtime friends planning run in honor of Forrest Gump
Kyle Prater, left, 27, listens as friend Paul Leslie, 29, talks about his decision to run from Bayou La Batre, Ala., to Pensacola Beach, Fla., while raising awareness and money for the Alabama Coastal Foundation. Prater will join Leslie on the 90-mile run, which the two hope to complete in six days. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

OAKWOOD — First, he walked. Now, Paul Leslie’s planning to run.

The 29-year-old Gainesville State College graduate paid tribute to Fats Domino’s hit “Walking to New Orleans” by doing as the song suggests in February, completing a 300-mile journey.

He and a friend, Kyle Prater, are looking toward March, when they hope to complete a 90-mile run between Bayou La Batre, Ala., and Pensacola Beach, Fla., in honor of the 25th publication anniversary of the novel “Forrest Gump” by Winston Groom.

The movie, by the same now, depicts Gump’s speedy running, which lands him a football scholarship at Alabama.

After the New Orleans walk, which benefited Brad Pitt’s Make It Right foundation, certain people implored Leslie to go on another trek.

“I didn’t know whether I wanted to do it again. When I came back from the last one, I was emaciated. I mean ... it made me really very weak,” said Leslie in an interview Wednesday at the college.

He gave it more thought, especially in light of the “Forrest Gump” anniversary.

Leslie called someone who was supposed to accompany him on the New Orleans walk and talked about his idea.

“He said, ‘Are you watching TV right now?’ ” he said.

After watching a scene from the movie, he thought to himself, “OK, I have to do it now,” Leslie said.

The March event will benefit the Alabama Coastal Foundation, which strives to improve and protect the quality of Alabama’s coast through education and other means.

He chose Bayou La Batre as the beginning point because the city is the home of Gump’s Army buddy, Benjamin Buford

“Bubba” Blue, and later as Gump’s home during his time as a shrimp boat captain.

And Pensacola Beach was selected because singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffet has a hotel there and Buffett has been particularly vocal during the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Leslie talked about his plans with Prater, a longtime friend, during a film class they took at Gainesville State this summer.

“We’re always following up on crazy ideas, I guess,” Leslie said. “He’s one of those people I can talk to forever and that’s important when you’re going to be spending six days (together), 3 feet away.”
Prater, a Gainesville State student, said he talked frequently with Leslie during the New Orleans walk.

“I just really wanted to be a part of it because ... who gets to say they ran across the state of Alabama for their spring break?” he said, laughing.

Plus, “all the people at the Coastal Foundation are really good people — they’re (involved in the oil spill crisis) for all the right reasons,” Prater said.

“We’re doing it on their behalf to raise awareness and money,” Leslie said. “People are going to be able to go the (foundation’s) website and (donate money).”

Leslie, who plans to start classes at Georgia State University in January, is already looking beyond the run at another event — maybe something that involves biking, Prater’s big passion.

“Walking and running. Bicycling is the next progression,” he said.

“Bike across the Mojave (Desert)?” Prater said, his head cocked toward his friend.

“We’ll come up with something,” Leslie said, grinning. “I thought about New Orleans to Las Vegas — I don’t know, though.”

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