By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — The crowd of nearly 200 was certainly an eclectic bunch.
They included people from a broad swath of the United States, but primarily from Sioux Falls, S.D.
They also included four U.S. Air Force colonels, and the bishop of Springfield, Ill.
They were the LIFE Runners, and they came to St. Thomas More Parish the evening before the Oct. 15 Kansas City Marathon to fuel up on pasta, salad and fruit — and to pray.
The brainchild of Lt. Col. Pat Castle, a Sioux Falls native now stationed at Scott AFB in Illinois, LIFE Runners is committed to raising funds to assist pro-life agencies who help women choose life for their unborn babies by running in one marathon in a Midwestern city a year.
At last year’s Sioux Falls Marathon, 17 runners joined Castle, Lt. Col. Rob Rysavy, and Lt. Col. Rich Reich to raise funds for the Alpha Center help bus, a mobile ultrasound clinic that the center’s founders, Dr. Allen and Leslee Unruh, park in front of abortion clinics to let the mother see the baby they are about to abort.
At St. Thomas More Parish, the Unruhs displayed pictures of several babies born after their mothers saw the ultrasound images.
This year, with 170 on board raising a minimum of $250 plus paying their own expenses, LIFE Runners raised $25,000 for the Alpha Center, and another $10,000 for the Wyandotte Pregnancy Clinic, with also operates a “help bus” in the Kansas City metropolitan area.
“It means everything to us,” said Leslee Unruh. “We can save a lot of babies with $25,000.”
That’s the idea, said Castle, who announced that next year’s LIFE Runners team will run in the St. Louis Marathon — and he had no idea how many runners there would be.
“We started with 17 last year, we are now 170,” he said. “God has increased us tenfold.”
And he has increased LIFE Runners through the Internet (run.lifegroup413.org) and social media such as Facebook.
That’s how Lisa Skowron of San Antonio, Texas, and Rosemary Bernth of Pittsburgh, Pa., joined the LIFE runners team in Kansas City.
“I love running,” Bernth said. “When I heard about this group, it connected my love for running with something I have strong faith for. It is a physical prayer. I am using every gift God gave me for life.”
Skowron had an extremely personal reason for running with the LIFE Runners. She dedicated her half-marathon to Jonathan, the baby she aborted 26 years ago when she was a teenager.
It wasn’t until she went through a church-based abortion recovery program, similar to Project Rachel, did Skowron begin to get her life back.
“The Lord met me and walked me through a lot of pain,” she said. “He lifted that heavy burden I had been carrying for years.”
Skowron told her fellow LIFE Runners that it isn’t just the lives of babies they are saving from abortion.
“You are saving the lives of mothers,” she said.
Bishop Thomas Paprocki caught the Castle’s attention in 2010 when he was appointed Bishop of Springfield, the diocese adjacent to Scott AFB. All the news reports noted that the new bishop was an avid marathoner, so Castle sent him an e-mail.
Within a few weeks, Castle went to Springfield to train with the bishop.
“It was God’s grace,” said Bishop Paprocki, who had run in 17 marathons before Kansas City.
Long life is not in his family’s genes, the bishop said. Three of his grandparents died well before their 60th birthdays, so he began running as part of a physical fitness regimen. He will turn 60 on Aug. 5, 2012.
“I started running marathons in 1995,” said the bishop, a native of Chicago. “The Chicago marathon got too crowded, so I looked to do a marathon in the fall in a different place every year. I was going to run in St. Louis this year, but then I found that I had to be in Rome. I needed another marathon, and out of the blue, I got an e-mail from Pat Castle.”
Bishop Paprocki said that running is an excellent way to pray.
“I pray with my finger rosary,” he said.
Running is also a way for brothers to bond, said Steve Castle, Pat’s younger brother.
Steve remembers the first half-marathon he ran with Pat. He had set a goal of completing the 13.1 miles in less than two hours.
“I was about a half-mile from the finish, and I was hurting a lot,” Steve said. “Ahead of me, I see my brother. He’s running back to me. He says, ‘Steve, Steve! You can do it. You still have two minutes and you can break two hours!’ and he ran along with me to the finish.
“Someday,” Steve said, “We are going to be finishing the race of life. In that moment, there will be people cheering us on, but I want that vision of by brother, running back to me, telling me, ‘Steve, Steve! You can do it.’
“That’s what kind of brother Pat is,” Steve said. “He will go behind enemy lines to find the broken and the broken-hearted, and he will bring them home.”
Pat Castle looked over the filled room at More Hall and marveled about how LIFE Runners had grown in just one year.
“LIFE Runners is truly about loaves and fishes,” he said, recalling the story of how Jesus multiplied a few fish and loaves of bread to feed a multitude.
“Only by sacrifice, only with getting uncomfortable is there even a chance that we can push through this deadlock on abortion and save babies, and bring people back to Christ,” he said.
More than 11,000 runners competed in the Kansas City marathon, half-maration or 5,000 meter race. The average time for the 1,331 marathoners who completed the race was 4 hours and 21 minutes.
Out of those 1,331 marathon runners, Lt. Col. Pat Castle finished 25th overall and fourth in his age group of 40-44 with a time of 3 hours, 6 minutes and 24 seconds.
Bishop Paprocki and Steve Castle ran together. The bishop finished 531st and ninth in his 55-59 age group at 4 hours, 8 minutes and 39 seconds. Steve Castle put up the same time, finishing 532nd overall and 66th out of 133 runners in 35-39 age group.
Rosemary Bernth finished 40th in her age 18-24 age group at 4 hours, 40 minutes and 12 seconds.
And Lisa Skowron finished the half-marathon for Jonathan in 2 hours, 55 minutes and 46 seconds.