This Man Walked 21 Miles a Day to Work

Not every great love story is about romantic love. This tale is about friendship and how small acts of generosity changed the lives of those involved forever.

My name is Evan Leedy. In 2015, I came across an article about a remarkable man named James Robertson. Little did I know it at the time, but we were about to change each other’s lives forever.

For nearly 7 years, James Robertson never missed a single day of work. But what’s even more astounding is that he walked 21 miles a day roundtrip just to get there. 

James Robertson during the filming of the upcoming independent film “The Walking Man” on October 6, 2016, in Detroit. (Salwan Georges/Detroit Free Press/TNS via Getty Images)

This was James’ reality for nearly a decade after his 1998 Honda Accord broke down. And with his factory job paying only $10.55 an hour, he couldn’t afford another car. So, every morning, this 56-year-old man, would step out into the cold, and begin his Olympic-sized trek from Detroit to Rochester Hills. He would take a bus partway there and partway home, and then walk the remaining 21 miles.

He did this Monday through Friday. Five days a week. On only 2-3 hours of sleep a night. But you would never catch James complaining. Not once. For nearly a decade, he would trudge through harsh weather conditions- from bitter cold winters to blazing summer days where he’d show up completely drenched in sweat. Until finally… someone took notice.

A banker named Blake Pollock realized a man was always walking along the same route he drove to get to work. One day, Blake decided to pull over and ask the man why he was always walking. When he heard James’ reason as to why, he was blown away. He couldn’t believe someone could possess that level of strength and resilience.

Blake felt the community needed to know about the incredible story of James Robertson. So he called the Detroit Free Press and shared the story with them. But first, he offered James a ride to work.

Blake Pollock and James Robertson

Sure enough, the reporters at the Free Press were extremely touched by the narrative and decided to write about it. I was a college student at Wayne State University at the time the story was published. I remember stumbling upon the article as I was scrolling through Facebook.

Me (Evan Leedy)

Immediately upon reading it, I knew that I wanted to help in some way. I had never created a GoFundMe page before, but I thought maybe if I set one up for James and posted it in the comments of the Free Press article, people would donate. So that’s exactly what I did. And after only a few hours, James’ GoFundMe campaign had already raised $25,000.

When the campaign ended a week later, a total of $350,000 had been donated.

Of course, James had no idea about the GoFundMe page I created or the money that had been donated for him. He didn’t have access to a computer, much less social media- and if he did, he would have also known that his story went completely viral. Then, NBC got wind of the story and contacted me. They wanted to set up an interview to have me and James meet for the first time at a restaurant where I could tell him the exciting news about the donations.

Evan Leedy and James Robertson

I’ll never forget the look on James’ face. The first thing he said was, “Are you serious?” He was so choked up. As he fought back his tears, he said, I’m always going to be in your debt — I will never forget this.”

Then I showed him all the wonderful comments people wrote about him on his GoFundMe page. I printed them out for him to read since I knew he didn’t have internet. He was so moved by the outpour of love.

But the excitement wasn’t over just yet. A few days later, a Ford car dealership in Sterling Heights called me and said they wanted to donate a car for James. They said he could pick out any car on the lot. James told me his dream car was a Ford Taurus… so that’s exactly what we surprised him with a few days later.

James had a hard time grasping his new reality. He went from walking 21 miles a day to work to having a brand new car and $350,000, practically overnight. Evan Leedy

James put the money donated to him away for retirement – but he did use a small portion of it to move closer to his job in Rochester Hills, where he still works at the same factory. I helped him move into his new apartment and furnish it.

James and I became great friends as a result of this whole experience.  Today, he’s considered family. He’s included in all our family functions whether it’s Christmas parties or Thanksgiving dinner. He will even be attending my wedding in August.

James has taught me so many valuable lessons that have shaped me into the man I have become today. He’s taught me the importance of hard work, being grateful for what you have, and always remaining humble. James has never let his good fortune change him in any way. He always tells me, “the same God who brings you all these blessings can just as quickly take them away.”

I’m so glad I was able to help James, but I was only a small part of the equation. This is truly an amazing tale of generosity on all sides- from Blake Pollock who noticed James always walking, to the car dealer who gave him that Taurus, and of course to James himself, and the many people who donated to his welfare.

Sometimes charity starts within our own communities and the smallest acts of kindness can lead to the biggest changes.