‘Human Etch A Sketch' runs through Mass. with a purpose

Rik Zortman of Iowa is trying to run in each state, tracing out the names of children with cancer on GPS maps

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He calls himself the "Human Etch A Sketch."

Rik Zortman is a father from Iowa who sketches out names of children with cancer on maps. He does it by running in the city or town where the request comes from.



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He recently completed his New England runs and is on track to finish all 50 states.

"To be able to go out, get a run done, and then have the story that I'm running for — thinking about that person, what they have gone through," Zortman said. "You just have a sense of, you know, we're similar because we've gone through that same story."

Zortman isn't the kind of guy who runs aimlessly. More than a runner, he's an artist of sorts — one with stories to share.

The 51-year-old uses his leisure time to travel the country and sketch his runs in a peculiar way.

"I was starting to experiment more with the GPS, and I started spelling out some of my friends' names," he explained.

When he arrived to Massachusetts, he traced the name of a 13-year-old girl from Attleborough named Lilly.

"She was an old soul, she was very kind, she was always giving," said her mother, Lyndi Baker. "After she passed, I needed a purpose, and I wanted to fulfill her wishes."

Lilly died in 2019 after her battle with lymphoma and leukemia. Her mother launched the Lilly Lights The Way foundation to help other kids with cancer.

Zortman drove by a sign for the foundation and reached out.

"For a complete stranger to go out of his way, see the sign, see her name, and then run for her, is just so touching and so beautiful," said Baker.

Zortman knows a thing or two about loss. His son Armstrong died in 2009 at age 3.

"We were told by the doctors that it was a brain tumor,” said Zortman. "Probably the worst feeling in the world."

It moved Zortman to run — something Armstrong loved to do.

"To this date, I've ran 30 states, two foreign countries, and I'm closing in on 12,000 GPS miles," said Zortman.

Some of his sketches can be silly, but the names he traces mean something.

"Some stories, they don't want to be told because they're just too painful. And some, they want to be shared, because they have, like, a rare disease that they're hoping maybe somebody else there might have," said Zortman. "To be able to pay back where we were at compared to where families are at now, it's just that gratitude of what I do and what it means to other people."

A lifelong Celtics fan, Zortman made sure to celebrate their latest championship with a sketch after he landed in Boston last week.

His next stop is in the Dakotas.

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