"I walk in honor of or in memory of someone’s loved one most every day. That definitely inspires me," Mickey Nelson says

By Joelle Goldstein
June 18, 2020 01:23 PM
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Mickey Nelson
Mickey Nelson
| Credit: Craig Dirkes

Inspired by the feats of Captain Tom Moore, a World War II veteran has decided to take on his own challenge by walking 100 miles for his 100th birthday and donating the funds he raises to charity.

Mickey Nelson tells PEOPLE he initially set out at the end of May to raise $5,000 for The Salvation Army, which would go towards helping families who were struggling to put food on the table amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Since then, Nelson, who turns 100 on June 27, has exceeded that goal and raised over $93,000. All the while, he has continued to walk towards 100 miles — something he hopes to accomplish by the end of summer.

"$5,000 seemed like a stretch back on May 21," he says. "As the money poured in, I was in disbelief for the amount of interest people showed. It inspires me to keep walking."

Nelson says he got the idea to walk 100 miles after watching Moore, also a World War II veteran, raise over $40 million for the U.K.'s National Health Service by walking 100 laps in his backyard garden ahead of his 100th birthday.

"I watched with fascination as the donations poured in to support Captain Moore’s 100 laps prior to his 100th birthday," he explains. "I saw how the British healthcare system benefited from Captain Moore’s walking fundraiser and wondered if I could do the same here in the USA."

Mickey Nelson, a WW2 veteran
Mickey Nelson
| Credit: Michelle Kelm

"[Moore] was encouraged by his daughter to walk 100 laps with a walker while recovering from surgery. I realized that I certainly could walk 100 miles without a walker and that I better get busy!" he continues. "He really inspired me to use my good health towards a worthy cause."

After realizing how many people were in need of meals during the pandemic, Nelson decided to focus his efforts on The Salvation Army. A discussion with his pastor, Jamie Cameron, later reaffirmed that the Christian charity was the right one to choose.

"This was the direction God was leading me," Nelson says. "I have since learned that the requests for food assistance from the Salvation Army has risen over 900% during the COVID-19 pandemic, so this fundraiser came at just the right time."

Says Nelson's daughter, Michelle Kelm: "Dad has a heart for anyone struggling to put food on the table and during the COVID-19, there has been a lot of people needing help. He saw the long lines people were waiting in to obtain a box of food for their family for the week."

"It reminded him of the food lines he heard about during the Great Depression," she continues. "Dad feels especially blessed that he has never had to worry about having enough food for the family to eat and realized that he could do something to help."

Mickey Nelson, a WW2 veteran
Mickey Nelson
| Credit: Michelle Kelm

Kicking off his challenge, Nelson's other daughter, Kathy, and Michelle vowed to donate $100 to their father's efforts if he walked 100 miles — $50 upfront and $50 when he was finished.

"That is all the encouragement it took for him to begin walking," Michelle says, noting that as her father keeps walking, the donations have continued to pour in from over 1,300 individual donors.

"Dad has had absolutely no reservation nor hesitation," she adds. "He already was an active walker, so he knew he could accomplish it physically."

Though he's almost an official centenarian, Nelson says it's not age that has presented the biggest obstacle for him, but rather the weather in his Clarks Grove, Minnesota hometown.

"The only challenge I have faced during my walking are the rainy days," he shares. "Sometimes I skip walking on the rainiest days and make up for it on other days."

Mickey Nelson
Mickey Nelson
| Credit: Michelle Kelm

Still, even on those days, Nelson — who served at Fort Knox, Kentucky, in the U.S. Army Armored Division — maintains his motivation to keep going thanks to all of his supporters.

"My daughter reads the comments, notes, dedications, and heartwarming stories that people send to me on the Salvation Army Fundraising website and on Facebook," explains Nelson. "I walk in honor of or in memory of someone’s loved one most every day. That definitely inspires me."

As of Thursday morning, Nelson has walked 50 miles. He fully expects to complete his challenge, but not before celebrating his 100th birthday at an outdoor picnic dinner with his loved ones.

"Turning 100 has been quite a ride! On my birthday, I am beyond blessed and incredibly grateful to be able to celebrate with my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren," he says. "My birthday wish is that I will be able to hug and be with my wife, Marguerite because we have been separated three months due to COVID-19 as she is in a nursing home."

RELATED VIDEO: 100-Year-Old Man Inspired by Capt. Tom Moore Raises More Than $97K by Walking in Garden

In addition to reuniting with his wife of 12 years, Nelson is looking forward to something else.

"As I began walking the 100 miles for this challenge, I started thinking ahead to 2021 when I will turn 101, God willing," he says. "It's possible I will try this again next year — 101 miles!"

For those who may become inspired by his story, in the same way Moore influenced him, Nelson has one piece of advice: "By God’s grace I have been allowed to live through an entire century and one thing I have seen over and over is the resilience of the American people, particularly while facing adversity."

"The Bible tells us that the greatest commandment is to love God and love others. That really sums it all up, doesn’t it?" he continues. "It’s really a matter of perspective. Everyone can take one step towards loving someone they come into contact with today — by a simple smile, just listening for a few minutes, lending a hand to a neighbor, offering a drink of water, or donating to a worthy cause, because we can all do something."

Those interested in donating to Nelson's fundraiser can do so here.