Man hikes East Coast to raise awareness for addiction

Jim Downs walked through Southwest Virginia Monday

ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. – A recovering addict is hiking 2,200 miles along the East Coast to raise awareness for addiction.

He left Panama City, Florida, on Feb. 1 and made his way through Southwest Virginia Monday.

Anyone driving down Route 460 over the past few days may have seen him, walking along the road, carrying a cross.

Jim Downs, better known as Big Jim, is hiking from Florida to Canada.

"I’m reaching for anyone that's struggling. I want to be able to help ‘em and be able to get them in free recovery," Downs said.

Jim knows the issue all too well. He struggled with addiction for 34 years.

"I was told that if I didn't find recovery, I was going to be dead in no time," Downs said.

He was accepted into a free, faith-based recovery program in Florida that he says changed his life.

"I found out to be able to overcome addiction, I had to be able to find hope and through hope, I found Jesus Christ. And because of his grace upon me, I’m now able to do what I’m doing which is... I know where I was... I know what a monster I was in my past. But that's not who I am now," Downs said.

As Jim hikes across the country, he's spreading his message of hope.

"I’m not just walking, my wife and I, we are constantly helping people find meetings, finding support, finding recovery," Downs said.

While Jim walks, his wife goes into nearby communities, talks with people battling addiction, and even sells produce on the side of the road to help raise money.

"Even though it hurts every day and I know it will hurt, even though it's hot, it's ridiculous on the knees and the feet... I wake up in the morning with a big smile," Downs said.

He says his positive impact far outweighs the pain.

"When I’m able to get messages from mothers and fathers that are thanking me for being able to help their child ... that's..... I've got a soft heart now and so I just cry over it because I helped somebody get out of what I was in," Downs said.

The recovering addict is trying to make a difference in this world, one step at a time.

"I may not have a lot, but I have everything and I hope... I hope that everyone else's hope increases when they see this cross walking down the road," Downs said.

Jim is already planning for next year. He says on Jan. 1, he'll begin a 4,000-mile walk from Key West to Seattle.

Click here to find out how to support Jim on his journey.