Missing Modesto runner found in Placer County, released from hospital

04/01/2014 3:28 PM

04/02/2014 9:54 AM

Robert Root, a long-distance runner from Modesto who was missing during two nights of frigid and wet weather in a remote area of Placer County, was found midday Tuesday in such good condition that he was in and out of an Auburn hospital by evening.

Despite being clothed in only shorts, a lightweight windbreaker and running shoes, he didn’t suffer from frostbite, hypothermia or any other physical problems, friends and officials said.

He was found when he stumbled back to the trail near where he went missing Sunday morning; he was taken by ambulance to Auburn Sutter Faith Hospital, where he was released sometime before 7 p.m.

“The searchers were all awesome,” Root said from his hospital bed. “I’m so thankful for all the people in my life.”

Root, 55, was with other runners who started their 20-mile training run about 9:30 a.m. Sunday at the trailhead in Michigan Bluff, a small community at about 3,500-foot elevation near the town of Foresthill. The runners were in two groups, with one group running ahead of the other. Root was with the slower group, and when it stopped to rest about 9:45 a.m., he said he would run ahead and connect with the faster group. That was the last time he was seen until Tuesday.

“He crossed the (El Dorado Bridge) and made a wrong turn,” said Chad Johnson, president of the ShadowChase Running Club, after visiting Root at the hospital. “He ended up pretty far off and tried to get down to the river so he could follow it back. But he ended up on a cliff and couldn’t get down.”

Johnson said Root “hunkered down” for the night under some bushes, curling up tight and putting his hands under his armpits to protect them from frostbite. He alternately flexed and relaxed his leg muscles to stay warm after he began shaking in the cold, Johnson said. It was raining most of Monday, then turned to snow in the late afternoon. An additional five to six inches of snow fell Tuesday morning.

When Root tried to find his way back Monday, Johnson said, he got turned around again and ended up back where he had spent Sunday night. Tuesday, he finally made it back almost to the bridge where he had made the wrong turn; there, he found some rescue workers searching for him. He sipped from his runner’s water bottle and “had some shot blocks and some glucose tablets that runners tend to use for quick bursts of energy,” Johnson said. He ate his last glucose tablet Tuesday morning.

“He’s in great shape,” Johnson said. “I think it was just that his body is used to being pushed to the extreme. He looked like he’d just finished a marathon, but didn’t look like he’d been out in the elements for two nights. It’s just such a miracle that we got him back safe.”

“This is amazing,” said Placer County Sheriff’s Department public information officer Dena Erwin shortly after hearing of Root’s safe return. “We don’t usually get this great of an outcome.”

“I just don’t get excited in this job, but this is exciting,” Erwin added later. “We have lots of missing people up here every year. We have missing snowboarders, missing skiers all the time.” But, she said, it’s unusual to have someone dressed like Root who was able to survive two days and nights in the freezing and wet conditions.

“Thank you very, very much,” said Root’s adult son Bobby when The Bee confirmed early Tuesday afternoon that his father was alive and talking with rescuers. “Thanks for letting me know.”

News of Root’s rescue “is the best thing I’ve heard all year,” said Johnson. He’d been staying in Foresthill with other club members and friends. He drove back to Modesto and hoped to participate in an impromptu gathering of the club’s members Tuesday night to celebrate the news. Root, said Johnson, was staying in Auburn for the night and is set to appear on “Good Morning, America,” this morning.

Johnson had thought Root would be found Sunday, or certainly by Monday morning. “It definitely got harder to keep the hope when time was going by and snow kept coming down,” he said. “It was tough.

“It’s a blessing,” Johnson said. “It just goes to show you that God does answer prayers.”

“Oh, my gosh!” said Jan Marie Miller, another ShadowChase runner from Modesto who ran an 18-mile stretch with Root last month in Livermore. She broke into happy tears when she heard the news. “I had written in my prayer on Facebook that he was someplace safe and waiting it out. The whole running club, none of us has been able to sleep since this happened. This is great!”

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