Angel waited patiently outside as Leslie Fender sipped a cup of coffee inside a shop on Broad Street around a quarter to 10 on Tuesday morning. Even with her reins simply dropped on the curb, the well-trained 9-year-old quarter horse filly knew that Fender would come back out to continue their journey to Washington, D.C.
So far, the two of them had traveled a total of more than 9,200 miles since leaving home in Dublin, Texas, two years, four months and 20 days before.
“We’ve been to Naples, Fla., and Michigan for a doctor’s appointment,” Fender said. “We go where the fancy takes me.”
Fender and Angel are on a mission: to spread awareness of treatments and research into strokes on behalf of the National Stroke Association. Fender, himself, is a stroke survivor.
“I was completely paralyzed on my right side,” he said of finding that side of his face numb a decade ago. “My doctor told me about a procedure. He didn’t know if it would work, but said the stroke association would pay for it.”
That operation placed a stent from his brain down to his thyroid. It worked.
Fender decided to share the good news. He trained Angel for five years before heading out. First major destination: Royal Oak, Mich., Fender’s hometown, to show his vascular surgeon, Dr. Graham Long, how well he was doing. From there, he made his way south, to Florida. Now, he’s on his way to Washington to meet up with the stroke association at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Fender -- a member of Stephenville, Texas, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 9181 -- served as a marine during that conflict.
During his more than two-year journey, Fender has been collecting donations for the association. Along the way, he also tells people what to expect if they have a stroke, and about the operation that helped him.
“I tell them what they’ll feel, how I felt. (The stroke) took me for a loop. I thought I’d be paralyzed the rest of my life,” Fender said.
All he has are what Angel can carry: a pack of clothes, tent and sleeping bag. He doesn’t carry cooking supplies.
“Too much weight,” Fender said, explaining that he, essentially, lives off the land.
In South Carolina, the cowboy and his filly have been through Aiken and Columbia. Tuesday morning, they planned to continue up U.S. 1.
Fender said they might take a side trip to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
“The commanding officer was my lieutenant. Now he’s a major general,” he said.
Several people came out of nearby shops to see Angel, and meet Fender. Angel took the attention patiently, even posing for a picture with Fender before he went back in to finish his coffee. He said he is accepting donations that he plans to take the National Stroke Association when he meets with them at the Vietnam memorial. But he also suggested going to its website, www.stroke.org.
“However they can do it,” Fender said of people wanting to donate.