Lt. Col. Pat Castle, co-founder of LIFE Runners and a member of Blessed Sacrament Council 8844 in Rapid City, S.D., completes the St. Louis Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Oct. 21, 2012.
It was 6:30 in the morning, and a brisk October chill still hovered in the air over downtown St. Louis as the LIFE Runners poised themselves for the start of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon.
The sun had not yet risen over the horizon as Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., gathered the group for a prayer and blessing. Each of them was clad in a royal blue team jersey emblazoned with the message “REMEMBER The Unborn” and a reference to Jeremiah 1:5, the Scripture verse that reads, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” The runners surrounded the bishop and bowed their heads. Their hearts, minds and spirits were prepared for the race.
Founded in 2008, LIFE Runners is a national running organization dedicated to raising funding and increasing prayer and awareness of pro-life issues. More than 250 LIFE Runners, including a growing number of Knights of Columbus, participated in the marathon in St. Louis.
“We do not run for ourselves today,” LIFE Runners co-leader Rob Rysavy reminded the group. “Today, by our presence, we are the voice for the voiceless.”
FROM COAST TO COAST
Launched five years ago by Pat Castle and Rich Reich — both active duty Air Force lieutenant colonels — LIFE Runners joins together those who share a passion for physical fitness and life issues. The name of the group stands for “Living In Faith Exchange.” It was conceived when Castle and Reich, who were faculty at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., trained together for the Pikes Peak Ascent — dubbed “America’s Ultimate Challenge” — in 2006.
“We spent a lot of that time in prayer and discussion,” said Castle, who is now stationed at Ellsworth Air Force Base near Rapid City, S.D. “Through that, Rich had a great conversion. We both came much closer to God, and our Catholic faith was integral to that.”
When Reich moved away to attend the University of Florida, he and Castle started trading daily prayer reflections via email. Their correspondence eventually grew into an email distribution list with a small group of their friends. Now those LIFE Runners Devotions, as they’re currently called, are shared daily with more than 3,000 people via the group’s website, liferunners.org. by 2008, LIFE Runners had already amassed more than 300 individuals who were receiving LIFE Runners Devotions. But there was something missing. Castle and Reich decided there needed to be an “action arm” to the group’s efforts.
“Here we were encouraging people, but we needed to focus this encouragement — on something with deeds and kinetic movement — for the cause,” said Castle. “That’s when we had the ‘a-ha’ moment to bring our running passion together and form the first and only national pro-life marathon team.”
The men’s faith journey also led Reich to join the Knights of Columbus in 2006. Castle, who joined the Knights as an Air Force cadet in 1992, was his sponsor.
In 2009, while serving as the grand knight of Pope John Paul II Council 13900 at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Reich crafted the idea of working with the LIFE Runners team to raise funds for the Knights of Columbus Ultrasound Initiative.
“I saw it as a way to move my council to support pro-life [issues],” Reich said. “I saw that the Knights had an Ultrasound Initiative program, so my council threw pancake breakfasts and other little things, and we were able to raise the money together.” With the help of his LIFE Runners teammates and other councils in the Gainesville area, they raised almost $10,000, which was matched by the Supreme Council.
LIFE Runners has experienced rapid growth in just a few short years. Starting with about a dozen runners in the beginning, it now has more than 500 members in 37 states across the United States, as well as Canada, Turkey and Singapore. Runners range in age from 5 to 73 and have various running abilities, from walkers to trained marathon runners.
Chapters participate in local running events throughout the year and then converge in one city for a marathon each fall. They raise funding for pro-life beneficiaries, including pregnancy resource centers, agencies that help women and their children, and post-abortion ministries. To date, the group has raised more than $100,000 for pro-life causes and has set a goal to exceed that amount in 2013 alone, Castle noted.
This year, LIFE Runners will also be joining the national scene as sponsor of the inaugural March for Life 5K on Saturday, Jan. 26, in Washington, D.C. The event came about following a conversation between Castle and March for Life founder Nellie Gray, who passed away in August 2012.
Finally, LIFE Runners is holding its first A-Cross the Country Relay for Pro-Life during the Lenten 40 Days for Life campaign, Feb. 13 to March 24. The event is being organized with the help of Jeff Grabosky, who completed a four-month, 3,700-mile run across the country in 2011 to encourage people to pray. Runners will start at opposite coasts — the Brooklyn Bridge in New York and Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco — for a 4,100-mile journey that finishes in Sioux Falls, S.D., near the geographical center of North America.
STRENGTH IN NUMBERS
Jeff Pauls, a member of Bauer Council 1028 in Belleville, Ill., and his father, Bill, a member of Columbia (Mo.) Council 1529, joined LIFE Runners in 2011. They had been running marathons together for 15 years. Bill never thought that running would be part of his lifestyle, but after Jeff confronted him about his weight and a longtime smoking habit, he reluctantly agreed to train for a marathon with his son in 1996. Bill quit smoking and lost 60 pounds. He has since run a marathon in every state and qualified for the world-famous Boston Marathon in 2000.
Jeff Pauls, who finally qualified for Boston himself at the St. Louis race, is now one of the five co-leaders of LIFE Runners, along with Castle, Reich, Rysavy and Steve Castle, who is Pat’s brother. All five are members of the Knights of Columbus. That wasn’t something intentional, but the five agreed that their K of C membership is a natural fit with the pro-life message that LIFE Runners is sharing through its efforts.
Local councils also have taken on a support role with LIFE Runners. Knights in Kansas City, Mo., and St. Louis, for instance, sponsored pre-race pasta dinners for marathoners at the last two national runs.
Bishop Paprocki, a member of Holy Family Council 4179 in Lake Springfield and the national chaplain for LIFE Runners, said the emerging connection between the two groups is no coincidence.
“I believe it’s by God’s providence,” said the bishop, a veteran marathoner who first joined LIFE Runners for the Kansas City Marathon in 2011. “In our diocese, the Knights are very active and have three main areas that they support — pro-life, vocations and campus ministry. [LIFE Runners] fits in very well with those, especially pro-life.”
The advantage of joining with other runners who share the same value for life makes all the difference, added Bishop Paprocki. “There is strength in numbers, and it helps when you have other runners to encourage each other. And that’s true not just for running a marathon but also in the pro-life movement. You need that strength and support of one another there, too.”
JENNIFER BRINKER is a reporter for the St. Louis Review, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
Upcoming LIFE Runners events
• March for Life 5K run/walk, with kids 1K fun run, Jan. 26, 2013, West Potomac Park, Washington, D.C.
• A-Cross the Country Relay for Pro-Life, Feb. 13-March 24, 2013
• Crazy Horse 1K/5K/half/full marathon, October 5-6, 2013, Black Hills, S.D.
To Learn more, visit liferunners.org