Rik Zortman Is Using His Human Etch-A-Sketch Skills To Honor Others

I am excited to have Rik Zortman, a.k.a. the human etch-a-sketch, joining me on the show today.

Rik got his nickname for his ability to use GPS tracking on runs to write words, names, phrases, and even drawings!

I am looking forward to going a few easy miles today with Rik Zortman.

A GPS creation by Rik Zortman aka “The Human Etch-A-Sketch.”

The Call That Changed Everything

Rik Zortman used to work as a military contractor stationed overseas.

In November of 2008, he received a call that is every parent’s nightmare.

His wife at the time called to let him know that their youngest son, Armstrong, had a seizure and he needed to return home as soon as possible.

Shortly after the seizure, Armstrong was diagnosed with cancer.

They only had a short period with him before he passed away the following April of 2009.

Some of his son’s favorite things to do were run, eat, and watch his favorite show Diego.

Rik wanted to find a way to honor his son and found that running did just that.

Running also allowed Rik a time to reflect and was a tool for handling his intense emotions surrounding Armstrong.

Run For Armstrong

After Rik crossed over the finish line of his first 5k, he has since completed over 30 half marathons as well.

The death of a child will change anyone and Rik was no exception.

Armstrong was the youngest of 5 children and his loss was felt far and wide.

Rik saw how hard his son fought and how brave he was.

Inspiration struck Rik through his son’s memory.

During the summer of 2017, Rik began experimenting with writing words as he ran with his GPS tracking app.

Rik Zortman

Each Name Has A Story

September is childhood cancer awareness month and Rik wanted to do something to honor all those that have been affected by the disease.

On the first day of the month, Rik wrote Armstrong Spirit in memory of his son.

Over the course of the month, Rik and 3 friends committed to writing any and all names sent to them.

In total at the end of September, they had collectively written 101 names.

Though Rik’s focus is on childhood cancer he has also done runs for many other causes.

If someone or something is important enough that they contact Rik, he will honor their wishes.


Rik gets many requests for names and keeps an updated list.

He generally does them in no specific order unless a date is requested.

For the names alone, Rik has run over 1,050, not including words, phrases, and drawings.

He has run in 67 different locations, 13 different states, and 1 foreign country.

Rik has a goal of writing something on GPS in all the counties in Iowa.

Over the course of 3 years, Rik has sketched for 676 days and run over 4,200 miles while doing it.

One of the many names Rik Zortman has done.

Practice Makes Perfect

Rik has gotten better at this craft through much trial and error.

His tips for anyone attempting to do the same are:

  • Look for an area with gridded streets
  • If attempting a bigger drawing locate a large open space
  • Write on paper before the run to determine the best route for what the goal is
  • Pay attention to the GPS while running to ensure that there are no mistakes
  • Running too fast or cutting corners may affect the final product
  • Diagonal letters require pausing of the app to walk to the next part of the letter

Rik has run the occasional drawing, but he prefers names and phrases.

The majority of his runs are for a purpose,  but he still enjoys going for a run without a route in mind.

Running has given Rik a way to focus on his health while also making a difference in the lives of others.

Mentioned In This Episode:

Stay connected with Rik Zortman by checking out his Website and/or following him on Facebook and Instagram.

Rik Zortman Is Using His Human Etch-A-Sketch Skills To Honor Others Share on X

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