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BLOOMINGTON — From the time she was 12 years old, Anna Harrington dreamed of walking across the United States. When her nephew was successfully treated by Shriners Hospitals for Children in Sacramento, the Idaho resident had a reason to accomplish her dream.

Harrington was in Bloomington this week, talking to area Shriners about her quest to walk coast to coast to raise awareness and money for the 22 Shriners Hospitals.

That awareness is critical to the hospitals, said Shriner Eric Tjarks, of Gibson City, who is an associate member of the Board of Governors for Shriners Hospitals for Children-Chicago.

“The younger generation doesn’t know about Shriners Hospitals,” Tjarks said. “You used to need a sponsor, but we’ve changed the referral process to make it easier.”

Shriners Hospitals offer specialized care in the areas of orthopedics, burn treatment, cleft lip and palate and spinal cord injuries.

Because the hospitals no longer require a physician referral or sponsorship and because of increased awareness through social media campaigns and people like Harrington, Tjarks said the Chicago hospital recently had 200 new patients in one month.

“They offer top notch care at no cost to families,” said Harrington. “It’s amazing. That’s what gets me out to walk every day.”

Harrington will be back on the road Monday and will visit that Chicago hospital next. Then, it’s on to Cincinnati.

Her journey started March 1 in Astoria, Oregon and will end in Boston,  sometime in late 2014.

Harrington, who walks 20 to 30 miles per day, six days a week, said the walking itself isn’t hard.

“I’ve always been able to walk long distances,” Harrington said. “It’s always been so easy for me.”

During her journey, she planned to visit nine of the 22 hospitals, but not wanting her journey to end, she may change her course, dropping south to visit even more hospitals.

“I have had the opportunity to meet with patients and families,” Harrington said. “I just love it.”

Each day, Harrington said she has had “close calls” with cars. She’s also gone through four pairs of New Balance shoes.

The weather has presented challenges as well. Her first days in Oregon were filled with rain.

“I was soaked for the first four or five days,” she said.

But the support she receives, especially from her nephew, is one of the things that keeps her going.

“There are days I want to end, but I don’t want the walk itself to end,” Harrington said.

Besides raising awareness for the work of the Shriners, Harrington hopes to raise $100,000 in donations through her website, http://www.annaswalk.com.

“It’s really ambitious,” Harrington said.

That amount is nearly what it takes to run the Chicago hospital for one day, Tjarks said.

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