What’s your very favorite song?
Maybe it’s something by the Beatles. Maybe it’s a little Bob Dylan number. Maybe it’s Beyoncé. Now imagine singing that song that you love so much in all 50 states, each time in front of an audience of thousands.
Sound like a nightmare? For Janine Stange, that song is the national anthem, and it was a dream.
On Aug. 28, Stange’s dream became a reality as she sang the anthem on Nashville’s LP Field, in the pouring rain, before a Tennessee Titans preseason NFL game. It was the last stop on a roughly two-year-long, cross-country journey that began at a Major League Baseball game in Tampa in July 2012.
>>> WATCH: Janine Stange on What Happened After Singing in the Rain at Titans Game
Stange, originally from Long Island and Italian through-and-through, is now known in the media and on her social media accounts as “The National Anthem Girl.” She’s been singing the anthem since high school, and, despite not coming from a military background or an especially patriotic family, always loved the spirit of the song.
“I had sung the anthem so many times, and I was singing all over,” Stange says, reflecting on her goal’s origin. “One day, I thought, ‘You know what, I’ve sung in a couple of states, I should sing in every state.’ I had no idea what that would mean, or the commitment it would take. I didn’t know I’d practically be living on a plane, but I did it.”
Stange, with no help or agents to organize performances for her, completed the feat just in time to celebrate the 200th anniversary of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in Baltimore, singing from the exact spot Francis Scott Key saw “our flag was still there” two centuries to the day later.
In the two years leading up to that moment, and the 75 minutes she spent singing the anthem in front of Americans everywhere, Stange came to believe deeply—so deeply that she gets visibly weepy when she discusses it—that the anthem is much more than just a 90-second mandatory interlude prior to kickoff.
“For 90 seconds, no matter who you voted for, or which team you want to win, it doesn’t matter,” Stange says. “In this country, we are free to have differing opinions, but just like a family fights, if somebody from the outside ever tries to hurt us, we come right together. That’s what the national anthem means to me.”
It’s a powerful message, especially given our current political climate, and one that ties in to another of Stange’s efforts.
After each performance, she sets up a booth and encourages fans to write thank-you notes and inspirational messages to active duty and veteran military, donating the cards to Operation Gratitude.
Stange will continue singing the anthem, but she’s now focused on working to share the stories of Americans across the country she met along the way.
“What I’ve done is great,” Stange says. “But what I really want to do is spotlight Americans. I wish I had had a camera with me everywhere I went because of the stories I heard. I’d love to have a way to get those stories out there.”
Stange’s big takeaway from two years of hugs from sweaty NBA players, marriage proposals from complete strangers and drivers asking if she was having car trouble when in fact she was just pulled over to take pictures?
“America is beautiful, and Americans are beautiful,” Stange says with a big smile.
Originally appeared on America Within.