Rosary Runner: Running for Life

babybellyRunning for Their Lives” (Columbia Magazine, December 2012), chronicles the founding and purpose of LIFE Runners, the largest international running group dedicated to Pro-Life causes.  The founders of the group are both members of the Knights of Columbus and Lt. Colonels in the United States Air Force. They began praying together as they were training for “Pikes Peak Ascent—dubbed ‘America’s Ultimate Challenge’—in 2006.” Out of that experience grew a daily devotional email that evolved into the LIFE Runners group which now has members across the United States and internationally.
I have enjoyed running since I was in college, but have begun more seriously training for races over the past four years.  My first official race was a local 5K trail race in a weekly summer series.  I wanted to quit for the last half-mile, but my best friend ran the race with me and encouraged me to repeat, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”  I finished in last place, but I finished.  That moment transformed me.  My runs became opportunities for intercessory prayer.
Since that first race, I have completed many shorter races as well as three half marathons (13.1 miles) and one 25K (15.5 miles) half-ultra trail race. Prayer has become a central focus for my training runs. In May of 2011, I was training for the Memorial Day Half Marathon in the Berkshires.  I had begun praying the rosary during my long training runs, and I regularly asked friends for intentions I could offer on the road.  One dear friend was 8 months pregnant and having complications requiring bed rest.  Our mutual friend called to tell me to pray for her, but I didn’t realize then that her situation was critical. She had been to the doctor on Friday of Mother’s Day weekend, and was expecting to go for her regular follow up the following Wednesday.
On Sunday, the doctor called to tell her she had been thinking of my friend all day and had decided to look more deeply at her history and charts. She was uncomfortable with waiting until Wednesday for the follow-up and wanted her to come to the hospital that day. She ultimately had a scheduled emergency C-section.  Her tiny baby arrived several weeks early and had Down syndrome.  Because my friend is unfalteringly Pro-Life, she had declined all prenatal testing that would have indicated any genetic concerns. She did not know the baby had Down syndrome until she was born.
The decision to go to the hospital and not wait until the Wednesday doctor’s appointment saved both of their lives. A few weeks later when I saw Baby Brigid for the first time, she was so tiny that she fit in a doll’s cradle.  Her perfect porcelain skin looked like a doll’s!  I just kept looking at this beautiful baby with total love and awe in God’s creation.  Later, my friend told me that my prayers helped save their lives that day.  I sobbed.  I know God had taken care of her and her tiny baby, but the challenges had just begun.  As with many babies with Down Syndrome, Baby Brigid would need open heart surgery to repair holes in her heart.
The following autumn, when I was training for the 25K, I began consistently praying a full rosary with all four mysteries on my long weekend runs.  Even though I’d sometimes lose count and say a 15-Hail Mary “decade”, the meditation on the life of Christ and my focus on the needs of those whose prayer intentions I carried made the runs more purposeful, if not easier.
I traveled out of state for the race, and Baby Brigid, now 4 months old, would be having her surgery in Boston while I was gone.  I offered the 3½ grueling hours of that race for Baby Brigid, the family, the surgeons, and all who would care for her during her recovery.  The race was a very technical trail race with lots of rocks, roots, and climbing.  I was not well-prepared for trails as I generally train and race on paved roads.  When I was a little more than half-way through the course, praying the sorrowful mysteries, my foot got caught under a root, and I tripped and fell hard.  I lay face down in the dirt for a long moment while other runners skirted around me. I pushed myself up and checked for blood and broken bones. My big toe throbbed and I had scraped hands and knees, but I was able to continue.  I thought of Christ falling three times on the Road to Calvary.  I said, “Lord, please take my fall, my pain, and keep Baby Brigid safe.  Please let me suffer so she can heal faster.”
If I didn’t have Baby Brigid to run for, I may have been tempted to quit and call my husband to come pick me up at the next water stop.  Carrying the prayer intention gave strength and purpose to my run.  I finished with no other falls, though I had to walk and hike a lot more than I had anticipated. The 25K was by no means my fastest race, but it was definitely my most purposeful and important.  When I got home, I found out that Baby Brigid’s was a success.  My friend said, “I knew you were praying for us in Boston. Looking around the room at the other parents waiting for kids in surgery, we were the only calm ones in the room. I was even surprised myself at how much I was able to trust God to guide the surgeon’s hands. The surgery was perfect—it couldn’t have been better even though the hole was larger than they thought and there were 3 not 2. They even sent us home a day earlier than [what they] originally said was minimum because she was doing so great. The whole thing was a tremendously difficult experience and I know I would have been a puddle if it hadn’t have been for you and all my prayer warriors.”
After those two experiences, I have continued to ask for prayer intentions and to pray the rosary on my solitary runs.  The LIFE Runners article helped me recognize a bigger opportunity.  My prayers had been offered to help one precious baby.  Perhaps uniting my prayers with those of a running team could help save many babies!  I am working with two friends to establish the first Massachusetts chapter of Life Runners. We need 5 runners and a chaplain to be “official,” but in the meantime the three of us have been training since April for the Surftown Half Marathon in Rhode Island on September 15, the traditional feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.  We will race in our LIFE Runners t-shirts which say “Remember the Unborn” and include the reference to Jeremiah 1:5.  The scripture reads “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” On September 15, we will run for Pro-Life, witnessing to the Truth that all human life is sacred.
In addition to uniting in prayer, LIFE Runners strive to raise money for Pro-Life causes.  The suggested goal is $262 per year which represents the 26.2 miles of a marathon.  Personally, I have trained for about 260 miles so far this year, so that goal would be approximately $1 per training mile! My personal goal is $524 ($40 per mile for my race on September 15)–$262 each for one local and one national charity.

I have selected the Springfield Pregnancy Care Center as the local beneficiary of my fundraising efforts.  The SPCC has been helping women and children in the Springfield area since 1985.  Their services include the following: free pregnancy testing; confidential counseling; abstinence and STD education; referrals to medical, community and government agencies; free maternity clothes, baby clothes and baby equipment; ongoing personal support; adoption information; prenatal and postnatal instruction; and post abortion support.  The Massachusetts Citizens for Life chose SPCC to receive their 2013 Pro-Life Group of the Year Award.

In addition to the local charity I’m supporting, LIFE Runners fund raise for one of three national organizations the group selects each year. The national beneficiary I’ve chosen of the three is the Vitae Foundation which promotes the message of life through the media. By promoting hope and the value of life in the media, we can help change hearts and save lives! You may make a donation to my Vitae Foundation Fundraiser, by clicking here: “Sharing the message of LIFE!”

Will you help me meet my goal of $262 for each charity by October 6?

Please consider a tax-deductible donation to support my efforts to help the Springfield Pregnancy Care Center or the Vitae Foundation to continue offering services to women facing unplanned pregnancies.  Your gift will help save a baby. Thank you for your support!

Karen Lynn Ford is a freelance writer who lives in New England with her husband and four children. She blogs at Living the Sweet Catholic Life.