Friday, Dec. 14, 2012 | 8:29 a.m.
A marathon runner knows exactly what it means to hit “the wall” in the 4 miles left in a 26-mile challenge. Imagine hitting the wall every day for 10 consecutive days as you tackle the awe-inspiring task of running the equivalent distance from Las Vegas to L.A. -- on spring-loaded stilts.
Former Cirque du Soleil performer Jesus “Half Animal” Villa set himself the 310-mile challenge to raise awareness of and support our local Ronald McDonald House. It’s not a nonstop event, but the challenger must cover on average 19 miles per day in 24 hours.
His best friends Playboy princess Pamela Anderson and magician Criss Angel from Cirque’s “Believe” at the Luxor cheered him on as the journey began.
It had taken 10 months of preparation: sleeping in hyperbaric chambers, special nutrition and training with two-time Super Bowl ace Marcus Nash, who warned: “I fear his body will collapse. But I asked him to be the best he could be. I’ve taught him to visualize the journey and overcome the nerves and just do it.”
Jesus told me: “We’ve trained at night in the desert. The stars have become my friends. It’s been up mountains and over treacherous terrain, but this is all about proving how to be a better person. If I fail, I get back up and do it again. You have to take responsibility to make a change. I wanted self-improvement and to see how far I am willing to go. Defeat is impossible, but you mustn’t be afraid to fail. You have to try.”
I joined Pamela and Criss as Jesus set out from the Las Vegas Ronald McDonald House. Contributing photographer Scott Harrison was there for the exercising and the start of the run.
I’ve been texting with Jesus daily since he began. His message after the first day was scary: “The pain is unbelievable, but the goal seems reachable. I have a high tolerance for pain. The response I’ve been getting from around the world has been overwhelming, so I can’t back down.
“The hardest part of my day is waking up. The blood vessels on my legs have broken and the swelling out-of-control. This is one of the hardest records I’ve ever attempted. I will keep icing the bruising, but if the doctors stop me …”
He is being trailed by his trainer, his nutritionist and a support team with video crew, and you can check out the amazing journey, his blog and those videos at HalfAnimal.com.
Jesus Villa Day 2
In another later text, he told me: “I might just be able to pull off this record. It’s no longer just about a Guinness World Record, but something much greater. It is becoming an international movement.
Criss told me: “He is incredibly determined, passionate and an amazing athlete. As a performer, he’s stood out above everybody else. I was mesmerized how he became that character ‘Half Animal.’ He is just a ball of energy, always trying to better himself, and he has a wonderful heart. He had his own trials and tribulations in his life, and I wanted to be there to support his positivity and his change of lifestyle, and how he is looking into the future in a positive light and trying to inspire others with his demonstrations.
“Pamela and I are here because we see someone who has a passion for life and a passion to better himself. Whether he succeeds or fails, he is a success in my mind because he is living on the right track, and you have to admire that and support that.”
Jesus Villa Day 3
Pamela added: “Jesus is just 100 percent heart and an inspired person. He has seen a lot in his life and has just wanted to challenge himself. He just feels so much that things that seem impossible to other people are not impossible to him. We have been dear, dear friends for years. He is a unique man, and I am happy to know him because there is no one like him. His message is all about overcoming obstacles, facing your fears and not letting fear dictate your life.”
Jesus told the three of us: “I am not here to change anyone’s life; I am only here to try to be a better person. It is a movement of self-improvement, and I think that we can all help each other when we come together. You have to put yourself against the wall because if you don’t, then somebody will put you against it. I don’t expect to set every single world record. I want people to look at Half Animal and know that there is some integrity there, that there is some kind of meaning and value there, and sacrifices for friends and family.
“You guys need to see how far I am willing to go for what I believe in; I am putting myself in a very difficult situation because I want to learn. I want to learn from failure; I want to learn that if I fail, I can get back up, and I will do this again. I want people to see that it is a team effort, and I really don’t want to let anybody down.”
Guinness World Record keepers consider a world record in this category a minimum of 19 miles in 24-hour periods. On his first day, Jesus completed 26 miles. Despite major pain in his left knee, Jesus recorded a total of 80 miles in 72-hour segments on his spring-loaded stilts.
Another text to me: “By far, this is the hardest mentally and physically.” Under the rules, he is permitted breaks and this Saturday will attempt to complete the final 80 miles in 24 hours.
Jesus Villa Day 4
He already holds five Guinness World records -- including two in one day: longest front flip over a car and most consecutive front flips -- 18 of them -- on his jumping stilts. It’s difficult to believe and inspiring that he’s made it this far, and we’ll be rooting for him this weekend to finish his “Longest Journey.”
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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