Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Challenge of Lifetime: Continuing the Selfless Journey of Run Hope

"Give, give, give and when it hurts keep on giving." -Mother Teresa

"Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much." - Helen Keller

Almost one year ago, on April, 19, 2010, I stood in a little park in Morristown, New Jersey, ready to run the first 50 miles of my 2,500 mile journey through America. Many people showed up that day. Old friends. Runners I had coached years ago. The media. A beautiful circus of people! It seemed no matter which way I turned, someone was calling my name or pointing a camera at me or at Sister Marybeth. I was a racehorse ready to run!

"Why are you doing this," an interviewer asked me. For a moment, I was at a loss for words. I couldn't process fast enough all the things I was feeling. I glanced over at Sister Marybeth, dressed in her full black habit. Part of the order of the Religious Teachers Filipini, Sister Marybeth had to wear a black wool tunic and headpiece at all times, even while running. I noted my friend's blue Pearl Izumi running shoes. The Running Nun. I smiled to myself: it felt so good to know that Sister Marybeth was with me, supporting my wholeheartedly. She would be embarking on her own journey, running 20 miles a day. It filled me with resolve and a sense of peace.

"I'm running for orphans all over the world," I told the interviewer. "There are over 64,000 orphans right here in America."

Sister Marybeth taught me the incomparable joy of running for a purpose, running for a reason other than personal gratification. Helping others became the motivating force behind my athletic endeavors; indeed, it became the driving philosophy of my daily life. People run for many different reasons. Some people run to lose weight. Others run for peace of mind. I was running to help the less fortunate. All the money raised during this project would go to two charities: AIDS Orphans Rising and the Dreamchaser Foundation, which also helps orphans all over the world. My focus was on helping children. Everyone, especially children, deserves a life of dignity and grace. A fighting chance.

Immediately, I thought of my own two daughters. Little Annabella and Gabriella. When I envisioned their beautiful faces, I couldn't help but think of the thousands of children out there with no home and no one to look after them, no one to hold them when they got scared, no one to tell them how wonderful they are and how much they are loved. No one who cared. But, I did care. I aimed to provide these children with food, clothing, shelter and educational opportunities. To give hope. That was my mission, pure and simple, deep and true.

One million dollars. That's how much money I wanted to raise. It was an ambitious goal. Several people told me it couldn't be done. But, I had faith. I had thought about it long and hard. I kept turning the number over and over in my mind, feeling its contours like a stone in hand. One million dollars. It seemed so possible. My logic was this: if I got the word out about my project to a million people, and each of those people gave just one dollar, I would reach my goal. Pretty simple. One dollar didn't seem like such an impossible thing to expect of people.

Even today, a full ten months and 22 days later, it seems so possible.

During Run Hope, I learned so much about suffering. My definition of an “orphan” expanded as I educated myself on the socio-political issues surrounding human misery. War. Genocide. Torture. Disease. Poverty. All were of direct concern to our mission. Even beyond those issues, our mission grew to include extending love and kindness to any person in need of help; I wanted to reach out to every man, woman, and child, who is without family or loved ones to care for them; the poor and the homeless, the abused and oppressed, the sick and the dying.

Please do not make the mistake of thinking that these problems are far removed from our own environments. We don’t have to look very far beyond our own hometowns to witness the tragic circumstances so many people endure on a daily basis. If we simply open our eyes, we will see the suffering around us.

On January 18, 2011, my friend and hero, Balei Chinski, passed away after being in a coma for five days following a burst brain aneurysm. She was just sixteen years-old. Balei spent 47 days in ICU and 5 brain operations. In her final days, she was so weak that it was difficult for her to even talk. She would scream out in pain because her head hurt so much.

Her mother, Cheryl, watched her little girl go through operation after operation, hoping things would change for the better. She watched her baby endure so much pain. "I am tired of fighting, but you know I will," Balei assured her mom.

Cheryl lost her job. As a single mother, this was a devastating blow. She spent all her time by her child's hospital bedside. Soon, her and her three other daughters became in danger of losing their home. They had hardly a dollar to their name. Without the help of the community, their situation would have been hopeless. So many people reached out to help, and they provided Cheryl and her daughters with the light of hope in the darkest of times.

My friends, this is the power of love. It is the mission of Run Hope. What I did last year - running 2,500 miles through America - was just the tip of the iceberg. A drop in the bucket. There is so much more to be done. But, I can’t do it alone. I need your help. Together, we can truly affect and make a difference in someone else’s life.

This doesn’t necessarily mean giving money. If we all would just allow compassion to enter our hearts and learn to view the world in a different way, then we can be an example of good will to others. Learning to live selflessly is a lifelong process. We have to start somewhere.

As of today, Sister Marybeth has reported that we have raised close to $700,000 from Run Hope. Everyday, money is coming in. Our hope is that by April 19, 2011 - one year since the start of the run - we will reach one million dollars. We are so close. People all over are doing their part to help. On September 1, 2011, my friend Sandra Powell will continue the Run Hope mission by setting across America to break the women's transcontinental crossing record.

I want to challenge you with something, a project. I will do it, too. Over the next week, you and I will reach out to someone less fortunate. It doesn’t have to be anything huge. One small gesture can mean the world, whether it’s volunteering an hour at a local charity, giving a dollar to a worthy cause, or just making someone’s day a little brighter with a smile and a few kind words. There are a million different ways we can make the world a better place. Let’s start now!


jenhirr said...

you are so beautiful! and your message is so good. all should join you. i know i will.

Dave said...

So exciting the money that has been raised for this wonderful cause. It is even more exciting that Sandra has joined the effort and is taking up the torch as you did last summer.