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Lake Geneva girl marching 75 miles for injured veterans

Posted at 6:56 PM, Mar 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-01 19:56:55-05

A Lake Geneva 10-year-old is marching 75 miles in Illinois to raise money for injured veterans. But Gracie Mae Johnson isn't your typical 10-year-old.

She is a bull-riding, jiu-jitsu fighting, pageant queen. Her dad wasn't in the military but he instilled a profound respect for those in the service. 

"They fought for us so we should help them if they're hurt," Gracie Mae said.

"I always tried to help veterans groups growing up with veterans in the family," Jeremiah Johnson, Gracie Mae's dad said. "I have a brother who is retired Air Force, Marine Uncles, my great uncle was a Navy SEAL and another great uncle was in WWII. They did what they didn't have to do and showed love for someone they didn't know. They deserve the respect."

A few years ago, Jeremiah stumbled upon the Oscar Mike Foundation on Facebook. The organization is based out of Marengo, Ill. and helps wounded veterans heal through adaptive sports. 

"I was like, wow, that's close," Jeremiah said.

He got in touch with the group and, since he raises rodeo bulls, he wanted to donate proceeds to them.

"I said our first bull, I want to name Oscar Mike if I have your blessing," Jeremiah said. "They cried they were so happy about it. They get 10 percent of whatever our rodeo cattle earn."

But that's not all. Because of Jeremiah's involvement with the group, Gracie Mae would join along when he'd make the trip to Marengo. She became friends with the creator of the Oscar Mike Foundation, Noah Currier, who she lovingly calls Uncle Noah. 

"When I first met him, his dog Rockstar, [we were] best buds right away," Gracie Mae said. "She's the most funniest thing ever and so is my Uncle Noah. I'm happy to do this because it's raising money for my Uncle Noah and the rest of the people in the Oscar Mike Foundation."

She set a goal of $5,000 and already has raised over $1,200 as of Thursday. She says it will be enough to help three veterans in the Oscar Mike Foundation with adaptive sports. It's not a lot, but it gives the people who fought for our country something to look forward to like obstacle course races, skydiving, skiing and other sports for those with war-related disabilities. All thanks to a 10-year-old girl.

"They're inspiring," Gracie Mae said. "They helped us so we could live and I'm just grateful for that."

To pay her respects, Gracie Mae will be marching 75 miles over three days during her spring break. 

"Not many kids will do this stuff," Jeremiah said through tears. "They want to play video games. They don't want to be responsible. They don't want to work. She's going to do something most adults won't do. Makes me proud. Really proud."

She's traveling from the Oscar Mike Headquarters in Marengo, Ill. to the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial in Marseilles, Ill. The trip will take place over her spring break for three days and she'll be roughing it, with a rucksack and all. 

"We aren't going to stay in a hotel," Gracie Mae said. "We're eating like they did, drinking like they did, sleeping like they did and not going anywhere until we meet that wall and someone picks us up."

But for a 10-year-old, the distance may be hard to comprehend. Yes, she says she walks around her neighborhood all day but 75 miles? It's quite the trek for her little feet. 

Clearly, you don't know this 10-year-old.

"Honestly, I know there are going to be times I'll want to stop," Gracie Mae said. "But I'm not going to stop because the people who were in Iraq and Afghanistan didn't stop."

For more information on the Oscar Mike Foundation, you can visit their website or follow along with Gracie Mae's story here.