Moms

12-year-old Florida boy takes Six Flags break during 2,500-mile walk

ARLINGTON -- Zach Bonner rode the carousel Thursday at Six Flags Over Texas. It was probably a relief to get off his feet for a while.

The Florida boy is on a walk across America, a 2,500-mile journey from Tampa, Fla., to Los Angeles to raise money for homeless youths.

He walks 15 to 20 miles every day, while his mother or brother follows in a blue Volkswagen bug, he says. At night, they sleep in a recreational vehicle.

In cities along the way, he stops for projects, such as Thursday's visit to Six Flags with more than a dozen homeless children from Dallas. Today, he'll pass out bags of treats to other Dallas homeless youths.

His travels have made him something of a celebrity. He has been featured in USA Today, and Bonner will be the subject of a Hollywood film that just started production.

Beliefnet.com, a spirituality website, named him the most inspiring person of the year. A California public relations firm notifies local media about his projects in cities he passes through.

He also has his own nonprofit, the Little Red Wagon Foundation.

"It has been really neat to watch this all grow," he said. "I never dreamed it would turn into this."

The idea formed in 2004 when, as a 6-year-old, he lugged water and supplies in his red wagon to neighbors whose homes were damaged by Hurricane Charley. He tackled other service projects and, in 2007, set out to walk 1,225 miles from Tampa to Washington, D.C. He completed the walk in three phases, finishing in 2009.

In March, Bonner, now 12, launched his walk to Los Angeles. His mother, Laurie Bonner, and his brother, Matt Chesney, 20, accompanied him. He takes classes online through a virtual academy. He walks near highways and smaller roads but never interstates, Zach Bonner said. He said he searches for roads with wide medians and grassy areas with plenty of room to walk. It is a little hard on his feet.

"There are a lot of mornings you wake up and just don't feel like walking," Laurie Bonner said with a laugh. "When he first walked to Washington, D.C., I wondered if he would really finish. But once he starts, he finishes."

Zach Bonner said: "It's fun meeting all the people along the way, seeing the small towns, eating in the hole-in-the-wall restaurants. You also meet a lot of kids who need help."

His march across America should take about six months, he said. He'll pause to visit South Carolina, where the film based on his life is being made. The movie, Little Red Wagon, is being directed by David Anspaugh, the director of Hoosiers and Rudy, according to news reports.

Then, he will return to the road.

"You see America in a way you never would driving on the interstate," he said. "It really is a lot of fun."

ALEX BRANCH, 817-390-7689

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