GATLINBURG, TENN. - On Saturday Harriman resident Benny Braden broke a major record in the Smokies, becoming the fastest to ever hike every trail in the national park.
Braden's trek of more than 940 miles took him two months and 19 days, which is nearly a month shorter than the previous record.
However, when Braden started out, he had no intention of writing his name into any record books.
"I gave myself a year to do it," Braden said. "I wanted to do this because living here my whole life, I had only done about 150 miles of hiking here in the park, total. So it was long overdue."
At first Braden was hiking four days a week, but in February he realized he might be able to join the 900 miler club in record time. That's when he began to push himself, hiking seven days a week instead.
For the final leg of the journey, a hike along the Trillium Gap, Rainbow Falls and Old Sugarlands trails, some of Braden's best friends joined him.
Braden said his friends, his family and his faith all pulled him through on the hard days.
"It's not all me. I've had so many friends that've given me shuttles and hiked with me and there's not a single day that I didn't start out praying or end my day with a prayer," Braden said. "God was right in the middle of it. There's no doubt."
More than 50 people cheered as Braden finished his record-breaking hike. Sharon Spezia, the previous record holder, was among the greeting party.
"She was like my hero this whole time," Braden said. "I thought I was going to cry when I met her."
Braden's wife and four of their children were overjoyed to see Benny and know he would be coming home.
"It was amazing. I almost cried," Ashley Braden said. "Super proud."
Braden is grateful for the support of his friends and hiking community, but said the most important support he received was from Ashley.
"Without her doing what she did, I wouldn't have been able to do what I did," Braden said. "To me, she was the rock. She did everything."
Braden said that he plans to get back to hiking after taking a rest, but next time he'll take things a little slower.
"It's pretty cool to have an accomplishment, to meet a goal," Braden said. "I don't see it as big of a deal as my friends do and I guess the people around me, but it's very humbling for people to just be excited about something that I'm doing."
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