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Man walking 220 miles to raise public awareness WANT TO HELP
The first male resident director at newly coed Randolph College takes on women's issues on the other side of the world

 Paul Clay-Rooks is four days into his walk from Lynchburg to Washington to call attention to the plight of women brutalized in the Congo.
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Date published: 3/5/2008


Paul Clay-Rooks is walking 220 miles to help people he's never met in a country he's never seen.

He's spending his spring break from Randolph College--where he's the first male resident director--traveling from Lynchburg to Washington on foot.

Most people look at him like he's crazy when he says he's doing this to help women who have been raped and tortured in the Congo, an African nation.

"It's hard to walk for people you don't know, so I walk for people I do know," he explained. "The young women in the dorms, the women who raised me, the women I work for I think about them being in this kind of situation, and that's what gets me moving."

Clay-Rooks, 29, also considers the plight of men in the war-torn Congo, where rival factions have assaulted, killed and displaced millions in the past decade, according to The New York Times.

"The sexual violence in Congo is the worst in the world," said John Holmes, a United Nations official quoted by the Times.

Those who see themselves as their families' protectors have been forced to watch, helplessly, while their wives and daughters were brutalized.

"I can't even imagine what it must be like for them, so I guess I walk for them, too," Clay-Rooks said.

Yesterday, he trudged along State Route 20 from Orange to Spotsylvania County. He'll head up State Route 3 into Fredericksburg today, then travel north on U.S. 1 to Washington.

He hopes to meet up with family, friends and Randolph College students Saturday in the nation's capital.

There, he'll lay a letter at the base of the Lincoln Memorial. It contains a two-line message--he won't elaborate--and a list of women who have influenced his life.

As he's hiked through the hills and valleys of the Piedmont, Clay-Rooks hasn't told a lot of people what he's doing. He travels alone, with a red walking stick in one hand and a backpack over his shoulders.

He's not as concerned about "spreading the gospel" of his mission as finishing the walk for himself.

Students and staff at Randolph, the former women's college that first admitted men last fall, are helping with the fundraising.

"Everyone on campus knows what he's doing, and we're all behind him," said Nesha Spencer, a senior. "I think he's amazing."

Some wanted to walk with him, but Clay-Rooks was concerned about their safety. And he wanted them to spend their spring break the way college students do.

"Some of them were feeling guilty because they're not doing this, and I was like, 'Guys, I went to Cancun. It was one of the best times of my life,'" he said. "Life is about balance. You can't always have Cancun moments, and you can't always have moments when you're walking to D.C."

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425
Email: cdyson@freelancestar.com

Checks can be made out to V-Day, Power to the Women of DRC Campaign, and sent to Randolph College, c/o Paul Clay-Rooks (Dean of Students Office), 2500 Rivermont Ave., Lynchburg, Va. 24503

Online donations can be made at: secure.ga4.org/01/drcongo.

Paul Clay-Rooks admits he didn't know what he was getting into when he decided to walk 220 miles.

DAILY ROUTINE: Starts about 7:30 a.m. and finishes at 6 p.m. His girlfriend or brother takes him to a hotel each night. SPEED: He'd hoped to cover 3 miles per hour, but is averaging about 2.7. ROAD HAZARDS: "Skunks and Mack trucks." He got sprayed by an alarmed polecat on Sunday, and he's seen almost every bit of Virginia wildlife except bears--"and God, please don't let me see a bear," he said. He picked roads he thought were less-traveled, but has faced lots of tractor-trailers, whose drivers typically move over more than other motorists. HIS EDUCATION: Graduated from the College of William and Mary, then attended seminary at Virginia Union University. CAREER PLANS: Would like to teach at a seminary. HIS NEW BEST FRIEND: A BlackBerry that delivers messages of encouragement and GPS locations.