By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
NORTH KANSAS CITY – These are not your ordinary human beings.
They are distance runners, committed to their faith and to life. They live life in capital letters, so naturally they call themselves LIFE Runners.
When they last came to Kansas City in 2011, LIFE Runners numbered 170, a 10-fold increase in one year, as they prepared to run in the Kansas City Marathon to raise money for pro-life causes.
And they have raised thousands. Their Kansas City run five years ago raised money to purchase ultrasound equipment for two crisis pregnancy centers – one in their founder’s native Sioux Falls, S.D., and one in Kansas City, Kan.
They still pick out a fall marathon to raise money that helps mothers in crisis pregnancies choose life for their unborn children.
But for the last few years, they have also spent Lent from Ash Wednesday to Palm Sunday witnessing for the unborn, while raising money for the logistical support of LIFE Runners by logging 5,540 miles – the distance from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean and from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian border – forming the shape of a cross in their A-Cross America run.
Their numbers? Try 4,403 – all of whom logged some distance by running, walking, or even crawling if they had to.
This is the first year that the run ended in the Kansas City metropolitan area. Kansas City will now be the permanent last leg, said Life Runners founder, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Pat Castle.
To be sure, the 4.403 runners didn’t literally run up and down and across America. They could run “by remote” from wherever they were, adopting whatever part of the course they wished.
And even doing that, nothing could stop them.
Take the LIFE Runners from the Fiji Islands. They “adopted” the entire state of Utah. Perfect tropical weather for runners? Guess again.
Led by Karen Patnaude, one of the original LIFE Runners, the Fiji chapter ran their remote legs around Cyclone Winston, the strongest tropical storm ever to hit the Pacific island.
That’s who the contingent of about 50 LIFE Runners were representing as they assembled at the finish line in the parking lot of the baseball field at North Kansas City’s Macken Park.
“We are the body of Christ,” said Castle, as runners finished the last half-mile from the north, south, east and west as they prepared to cross the finish line.
“What an honor and privilege it is to represent 4,403 teammates,” Castle said.
Chanting their slogan, “All in Christ! For pro-life!” the assembled representatives then jogged the final 100 yards before doing what they always do at the end of every run, every day.
They prayed. And their prayers were led by a LIFE Runner himself, Father Joseph Totton, pastor of nearby St. Charles Borromeo Parish, who had hosted the guest LIFE Runners for Palm Sunday Mass.
But that wasn’t before Castle, beaming with pride and adrenaline, told his LIFE Runners exactly what they had accomplished together, and how nothing is impossible through teamwork in Christ.
“Evil wants us to separate,” Castle said.
“That is why it is so powerful what we have accomplished together. It’s a team, and all of us have a part in it,” he said.
The beauty of LIFE Runners is that you don’t have to be a trained marathoner to join the cause, said Steve Castle, who bills himself as Pat’s “bigger, younger and better looking brother.”
“Whatever ability you have, if you can move, you can be a LIFE Runner,” he said.
Kansas City is special to LIFE Runners because this was the city where the movement launched like a rocket five years ago, said the younger Castle.
“For whatever reason, God took hold of our message, and it took off from there,” he said. “We pray, we run, and we raise awareness through a peaceful, loving witness,” he said.
Some of the LIFE Runners came quite a distance to Macken Park, and some also ran quite a distance.
George and Katrina Herrera, and Amy and Steve Kosta came from St. Louis.
The Herreras ran 13 miles – a half marathon – that weekend from a Planned Parenthood clinic on Noland Road in Independence to Macken Park.
“We really wanted to do the last leg (from the east),” Katrina said.
“What is it about running and pro-life? It’s just a beautiful thing,” George added.
The Kostas did their running in St. Louis before joining the final finishing legs.
“We ran across north St. Louis County to St. Charles. Sixteen miles,” Amy said. “You put your faith into action.”
And of course, enough is never enough.
Pat Castle told the runners at the finish line of an idea that crossed the mind of Jeff Grabosky, operations director of the Vitae Foundation in Jefferson City who also serves as LIFE Runners’ volunteer relay director.
“So Jeff says to me, ‘How far is it around the world? 24,000 miles?’ I guess we got some work to do. And with the concept of ‘remote running’ we can do it. Just think, you could be out on your run, and be running in Bavaria,” he said.
More information about LIFE Runners can be found online at www.liferunners.org.