U.S. 278. If you live in southern Beaufort County, you'll likely find yourself driving that road every day. Running from the Hardeeville line to the bridges to Hilton Head Island, the highway moves locals and visitors past a long line of car dealerships, businesses and neighborhoods. Along the way are people, places and stories you don't know. Come drive the road with us.
Thor. (Skinny Thor, High-School Thor, Thor Before He Got His Muscles.)
The Forrest Gump of Bluffton.
You’ve likely seen him — Vaught, AKA All Of The Aforementioned Nicknames — running during your morning commute through Bluffton, or on your way home from work, or if you opted for the back road — Bluffton Parkway — on your way to Hilton Head Island.
When he’s not training for a marathon or another race, he likes to run twice a day during the workweek, between five and 10 miles each time. On Saturdays he’ll go longer, between 15 and 25 miles.
He’s a tall man, “cut,” you might say. He has long sun-bleached hair and sun-kissed skin. He runs shirtless. He wears short shorts. He catches the eye.
Some folks call him Hot Dad.
Hot Dad: not his wife’s favorite nickname. And sometimes his kids hear things at school like, “Hey, I saw your dad running naked the other day.” Weird. Awkward. Ugh.
Uncomfortable, if understandable.
People notice things.
“It has nothing to do with … vanity,” Vaught said. “I just like to run.”
And running is more comfortable, cooler, in short shorts, he says.
And without a shirt: “As much as I sweat, it’s like putting a wet paper bag on.” (See also: nipple chafing.)
And with his earphones in.
Maybe he’s listening to a Christian podcast, maybe he’s searching for the newest contemporary worship music — he is.
Runs are spiritual events for Golden Boy — another nickname — and he uses them to prepare for worship sessions he leads at Hilton Head’s Grace Community Church.
Music is part of his ministry, and in a way it led him to running.
The backstory: Vaught, 35, moved from Charlotte to Bluffton when he was 12. In high school he played football and basketball — he was really into basketball.
He broke his leg playing football. He got into music — he was really into music.
He started playing in a band, Lowcountry Boil. He graduated early from high school. He toured with the band and cut a record. He played in bars. He liked a beer and a smoke — he was really into cigarettes.
He was carrying a huge speaker down a flight of stairs when he slipped and broke his ankle. He put down his guitar for two years. He kept reaching for the smokes.
He was still really into cigarettes.
So, Vaught decided to punish himself.
Meaning he took up running.
Explaining, joking, he has “a hard time with moderation.”
Now, for the past six years, he’s been really into running.
Stroller Guy — yes, folks call him that, too — started running shortly before youngest son Henry was born. Henry’s chariot, a battered stroller Vaught propelled along Bluffton’s sidewalks, sits just outside the family’s garage and has, per family calculations, about 8,000 miles on it.
The stroller’s wheels have rusted.
Vaught and wife Katie sometimes toy with getting rid of it.
And then Henry, now 5, will want to go for a run. Meaning ride. Meaning he might run some, too.
The Jesus-themed nicknames are … interesting, Vaught says.
Sacrilegious? No. He gets the beard-and-long-hair thing. If they help someone think about, or get to know, Christ through him, well, good deal.
I love Jesus; I’m saved by him, Vaught says — I won’t ever be him, but I’ll try to live like him.
So he runs.
Which is a better habit than smoking, which Vaught will tell you still tempts him, maybe when he’s drinking a beer, especially when life is stressful.
Yes, at times he’s done some backsliding, sneaking in a smoke instead of a run.
But the road remains, and leads to redemption.
“It’s like a worship service for me,” he said recently. “I listen to a good sermon on the Bible. … I hear a lot of stuff I need to be doing better.”
Some weekdays he’ll go for a run in the middle of the day, whenever he pleases.
A benefit of being his own boss and working out of his garage.
Where he’s a carpenter.