Married couple runs the length of the Mississippi River for ‘Relay of Voices’

On a Relay of Voices expedition from the headwaters of the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico, Tom Styrbicki, left, and his wife Victoria Bradford Styrbicki, are enjoying the people and communities they get to know on the way.

    Victoria Bradford Styrbicki and her husband, Tom Styrbicki left the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Itasca State Park, July 9.

    The couple is on an expedition, running and cycling, determined to reach the mouth of the river by the Gulf of Mexico — a distance of about 2,375 miles, she said.

    Bradford and Styrbicki are currently on their way to Little Falls and are expected to arrive Tuesday, July 23.

    Kris VonBerge, executive director of the Little Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau said after their arrival and they have showered and eaten, both Bradford and Styrbicki will shadow someone who is quite knowledgable about Little Falls.

    As part of the expedition, the couple will interview several local people to get a better glimpse into what life on the river in Little Falls is like. Both carry a body camera on them that will record their journey.

    Later in the afternoon, VonBerge said the plan is that the two runners will enjoy the Mississippi River canoeing and kayaking.

    In the evening, they will attend a community meal at Sprout from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. VonBerge said the community is welcome to attend for a small cost, but will need to RSVP ahead of time by calling (320) 616-4950.

    The event is also held in connection with the French delegation who are from Little Falls’ sister-city Le Bourget in France.

    “Rather than having a large community gathering for those two, we combined with the sister city French folks that are coming,” VonBerge said.

     Their adventure in Little Falls will continue Wednesday to learn more about the area and its people. They also plan to visit several historic locations, such as the convent of Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls, the Rosenmeier home, the Charles Lindbergh House and Museum, the Cass Gilbert Depot, Pine Grove Zoo, the Weyerhaeuser Museum and more.

     VonBerge said Styrbicki and Bradford will be leaving Little Falls Thursday morning. She is hoping to connect with the local running group to have them escort the couple out of town by running with them.

    Looking back at what inspired Bradford to take on the Relay of Voices project goes back to her roots in Louisiana.

    She grew up along the coastal region with her mom living in Lafourche Parish near the mouth of the river.  Her dad lived in Baton Rouge, another city along the Mississippi River.

    “Lousiana is a place that is mired with water,” she said.

    Bradford said although she left Lousiana to pursue an art career in Chicago, Ill., she always felt a call back home.

    “I wanted to be connected to the place I was rooted to and wanted to give back to all of the causes and concerns. Louisiana is always listed on the bottom when it comes to health, quality of life, environment and those kinds of things. But I wasn’t sure how I could give back,” she said.

    Bradford said it wasn’t until she started running that she had the idea for the Relay of Voices,

    “When I took up running, I had this idea that I could run home and really through a pilgrimage understand who I was and where I needed to be. Not just because I would reach there for a period of several days and miles, but because of all the communities you have to pass through on your way there,” she said.

    Bradford said she had the opportunity to partner with the Water Institute in Baton Rouge, La. that researches the human dimensions of life on the water and how water tends to shape people’s lives. In the same way, the effects of drought, land loss, coastal erosion and more affect people.

    “So they were interested in working with me and in taking all of these stories and using them in their own research and then put them back into the field to have that applied to policy, environmental research and to continue social understanding. so we are really excited that this work of art can get conversations with science and other fields,” she said.

    As part of the project, Bradford reached out to more than 100 communities to build relationships. The first friendship she made was in Minneapolis with a man, Tom, who is now her husband. The two now live in Stillwater.

    The last year, the two have spent many hours training to get ready physically for the expedition. Although Tom is used to running 10K (6.2) miles per day, Bradford said she has had to adjust to becoming a stronger runner.

    “I grew up trained in traditional classical ballet,” she said.

    When it comes to the expedition, Bradford said the greatest part is talking with people, the conversations she has and the time spent with people. Although they may be strangers at first, new friendships are formed along the way.

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