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Valrico's Zach Bonner, 12, chosen most inspiring person of the year by Beliefnet

Zach Bonner, center, says he was excited to win, “but all of the nominees were impressive and they all deserved it.” He’s shown during a planning meeting for an event where kids will simulate being homeless to raise funds and awareness.

STEPHEN J. CODDINGTON | Times

Zach Bonner, center, says he was excited to win, “but all of the nominees were impressive and they all deserved it.” He’s shown during a planning meeting for an event where kids will simulate being homeless to raise funds and awareness.

VALRICO — Sully didn't have a thing on this 12-year-old.

And those post-election protesters in Iran? Forget it.

Zach Bonner, a Valrico boy known for his money-raising treks for homeless kids, is the most inspiring person of 2009, according to Beliefnet.

The inspirational Web site announced Bonner as the 10th annual award winner Wednesday. The blue-eyed red-head got more votes than protesters against the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and even Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger — the pilot who safely landed a US Airways plane in the Hudson River.

"We were real excited to find out we were the recipients of the award," Bonner said, his hands folded on a conference table in front of him. His day was packed with interviews.

And he had already been featured in USA Today.

"It's an honor," he said. "But all of the nominees were impressive and they all deserved it."

It's the dedication to his nonprofit group, the Little Red Wagon Foundation, that got the editors at the site. Not to mention his age, said Laurie Sue Brockway, Beliefnet's Family and Inspiration editor.

Other nominees included actor Michael J. Fox, and the couple who danced down the aisle at their wedding to Chris Brown's Forever. Last year's winner was Randy Pausch, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University known for The Last Lecture.

"What he does is very impressive, and it would be impressive if he won it as an adult," Brockway said. "But he's done it at 12, and what he's done has touched our hearts in a very profound way."

It all started when he was 6, Zach explained.

That's when Hurricane Charley tore through Florida. He went up and down the streets of his neighborhood hauling his red Radio Flyer wagon to collect food and water.

That day would be the first of many days of service. Not long after, he began his foundation and his fight for homeless children.

Since then, he's won several awards and walked thousands of miles to raise money for his cause. Last year, he walked about 1,200 miles to Washington, D.C. In April, he will head to Los Angeles for a 2,300-mile trek.

Yes, all those miles make his feet sore. But usually after a few days, Zach said his body gets used to the "misery."

"It's not exactly misery, but you know what I mean," he said. "It's hard. But it's worth it."

Between a cramped schedule — in January he will have only one day off — he attends classes online through the Hillsborough Virtual School. Like many other 12-year-olds, he also likes to spend as much time in the pool as possible.

Zach lives with his mother, Laurie Bonner, who works in real estate from home. His father "is not in the picture,'' she said.

Zach doesn't think much of what he's accomplished in his short life. Shrugging his shoulders, he guesses that he simply likes helping people.

His mother thinks her son just found something he enjoyed.

"Or maybe," she said, "he was just supposed to do this."

Chandra Broadwater can be reached at cbroadwater@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2454.

>>Fast facts

To learn more

For more information about Beliefnet's award, go to www.beliefnet.com. To check out Zach Bonner's Web site, go to www.littleredwagonfoundation.com.

Valrico's Zach Bonner, 12, chosen most inspiring person of the year by Beliefnet 12/16/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 16, 2009 11:16pm]
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