About one month ago, an unknown teenager dropped by the Herald office.

He asked if the newspaper could help him gain some traction in trying to raise a goal of $1,000 for the Nicola Valley Food Bank, while vowing to run an ultramarathon.

“I think that would be huge,” he said.

This week, that same teenager hobbled into the Herald office on crutches, having made a monumentous impact on a small community and becoming a Merritt household name.

Darius Sam ended what was basically a 100-mile run on Sunday evening, having raised over $70,000 for the food bank of a town  of a population of just over 7,000.

The original goal was commendable enough. In the Herald’s original piece, we made mention that that if Sam reached his initial goal on his GoFundMe page in time, he would look at possibly raising the site’s goal to $5,000.

The $1,000 was hit, and surpassed, almost immediately. ‘Overnight’ does not do enough to shed light on how quickly Merrittonians were willing to donate to the cause.

The momentum continued, and grew exponentially, when word of the journey reached outside of town. Donations have poured in on a national level: for anyone curious, just look at the comments on the official GoFundMe page, with some donators voicing where they are giving their electronic gift from.

As of the time of writing this article, Sam’s GoFundMe page had reached just under $40,000. A local philanthropist told Darius following his run on Sunday evening that she would match donations up to $35,000, meaning the fundraiser had reached around $75,000.

That number does not even take into consideration any donations made in Sam’s name that went directly to the Food Bank, something Sam also encouraged people to do.

“It’s not something that was even in my mind, to get this far,” said Sam in an interview with the Herald on Monday.

The story begins a few months ago: Sam felt he was unfulfilled with a partying, drinking lifestyle, the kind of lifestyle that a 19-year old would often live.

It was shortly after that a chance encounter while passing the Food Bank inspired Sam to partake in such an incredible ordeal.

The Nicola Valley Food Bank, like other food banks across the country, has been hit particularly hard throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sam was looking to make an impact for the community in some way, but struggled to find a cause. It was in passing the Food Bank that he noticed a line of people waiting to get inside to help alleviate their own struggles.

So, like those looking for a meal, Sam waited in line outside for a chance to get in and speak with Derlanda Hewton, the Food Bank’s general manager.

Hewton said that she was surprised, but delighted, by the offer. The two spoke following the run, with Hewton at the finish line to congratulate Sam, though Sam admits he barely remembers any of the conversations he had at the finish line.

Hewton, however, told the Herald she stood back while Sam celebrated with his family. When the timing was right, she went in for a hug.

“I said to him, ‘you thought you were going to get away from this, right?” joked Hewton.

“And I said to him, ‘you are a hero to us.”

With numbers not fully known as to how much has been donated directly to the Food Bank for the cause, Hewton has said those direct donations have been coming in “fast and furious,” often through the Food Bank’s website.

In an interview with the Herald, the appreciation can be heard in Hewton’s voice.

“I don’t think he understands, the scale of what he has done for the community, and for the Food Bank. He is just a pure inspiration.”

To put the astronomical total into perspective, Hewton compared the amount raised to a gaming grant that the Food Bank receives every year. The grant is worth $70,000, having previously been $60,000 prior to this year.

“That’s to help us get through our year,” said Hewton, who added that the grant is seen as a “huge cushion” for the Food Bank.

Sam’s run brought in plenty more.

It is well-known around town how much work Hewton and her team do to provide as much for the community as she can. This huge influx of cash means not having to worry for the rest of the year how much product can actually be brought in.

“We’re going to have the money to bring in that product. We’re not going to be struggling, all year long, like we always do.”

COVID-19 has put an even larger burden on the Food Bank. Hewton said that as of her last known stats, over 5,000 people have been served this year, a grave number considering Merritt’s small population.

Hewton said that is about a 76-percent increase from the same time last year. Working with the school district, the Food Bank has been handing out between 95 and 100 hampers each week throughout the pandemic.

“A lot of these are families that have struggled all year long, but right now just aren’t comfortable coming into the Food Bank. And we want to change that, we want people to feel welcome.”

She, like many others who have been touched by this fundraiser, was often at a loss for words when speaking with the Herald. She admitted that she sort of practiced what she was going to say, knowing the media would be reaching out to her, but said “no words come to mind” that can sum up the lasting impact of such a cause.

“I say the same thing over and over again, what an inspiration he is, and what a good heart he has.”

Another person meeting Sam at the finish line was Hilda Rose. The Rose family used to own Quilchena Ranch, and Hilda’s late husband, Guy, had recently passed.

So in his honour, Rose decided to up the ante immensely in the cause: matching all donations up to a total of $35,000, which was easily surpassed.

Rose told Hewton this was one of the most positive, best stories she had ever heard coming out of the Nicola Valley.

Now let’s go back to the starting point: the Nicola Lake rest point dock, the same place Sam was met by Hewton, Rose, family and friends over one day later.

Sam’s training had gone well leading up to Saturday: in 28 days, he had ran 393 miles. He called it a grind. Though the amount of training had given him stress fractures in his shins, something he said he tried to ignore.

“I didn’t tell anybody about it after, my mom especially. She would have freaked out.”

Approaching Nicola Lake that morning, Sam said that he felt that he was mentally prepared. He had been mentally preparing for as long as he had been physically preparing.

Plenty of family, friends, and well-wishers were also there to help ease his mind before starting the journey.

“There was so many people there. I didn’t even know all of them.”

However, as she often does, Mother Nature decided not to play nice. It rained for the vast majority of Sam’s run, forcing him to have to change clothes numerous times.

“I was soaked,” said Sam. “I kept having to change socks. It rained on me throughout the whole night.”

The term ‘no rest for the weary’ certainly applies here: Sam continued to run throughout the downpouring night, estimating that he probably went about 38 hours without any sleep.

The only rest would be a quick couple of minutes here and there for ingestion or hydration. Pickle juice, in all its salty wonders, played a large role.

Only a select few people travelled with Sam throughout the night. But during the day, the support along the run was often reminiscent of that received by Terry Fox: supporters running beside him, a line of cars trailing behind.

One video made the rounds on social media of a complete stranger who came from Kamloops to run alongside.

Some just ran beside him in support, others were helpful in different ways. There was a large level of support in what Sam called “repairing” his feet, making sure that his most prized assets were kept in good condition.

Though despite all those looking to help him maintain his body, such a large endeavour is never one the human body can fully prepare for. Sam said he threw up three times.

The most major roadblock came late in the run: Sam collapsed with around 20 miles to go.

He was almost at Courtesy Corner. The need to go to the bathroom came on incredibly quick and powerfully, and upon going, he saw blood.

He came out of the bathroom and fell to the ground.

He was immediately taken to hospital by friends. Though laying in the hospital bed, he was determined to not let that be the end of what had been a months-long journey.

So, despite the recommendations from doctors, he voluntarily checked himself out some time later and was back at it.

“They ran heart tests, and said it would take an hour or two for an IV. I wasn’t going to wait.”

He was aware that the group was still running while he was in the hospital. He knew he needed to finish with that group.

Despite being barely able to walk, and of course going against his mother’s recommendations, he joined back up with the group around one kilometre out from the finish line.

“She knew she couldn’t stop me. She knows me.

“I had to finish what I started.”

Sam figures he ended up running about 101 or 102 miles in total: a happy ending to a story that could have quickly turned into tragedy.

Sam’s story has reached all corners of national media. Global News was on scene to broadcast.

B.C. Premier John Horgan even voiced his support in a tweet on Monday, saying “Way to go Darius! This Merritt teen’s commitment and perseverance is inspiring.”

As for any future endeavours, Sam described what he did as “an addiction.” And does not put off any chances of any other philanthropic acts he might do in the future.

“It’s just the feeling. The dopamine from the whole experience. Not just raising money, but the run itself. It’s definitely a possibility…this isn’t it for me. I’ve definitely got a lot more in the tank.”

A different Sam walked into the Herald office this week than originally came in about one month ago. There was a kid in top shape who just wanted a little help getting the word out there that he wanted to raise a few bucks for the Food Bank. This Monday, a broken, battered and bruised man walked in on crutches, having created a national sensation and had a life-altering effect on a local business.

Sam has decided to let the GoFundMe page run for another week: it can be found by going to the GoFundMe website and searching “Nicola Valley Food Bank Fundraiser.”