When you turn to God after experiencing the raw side of life and run more than 3,700 miles across the entire country, it’s fair to say you’re someone who can endure intense physical, psychological, and emotional trauma.
But if you’re Jeff Grabosky, and in you’re in the midst of another long run, you’re not convinced the endurance that served you so well previously will be there again.
>>> Update: About 50 runners finished the relay race Palm Sunday in Kansas City, Mo. Details below.
That thought came to mind last month as Grabosky and other “LIFE Runners” ascended the mountain regions in and around rural Nevada as part of a nationwide effort to raise awareness and funds on behalf of the unborn.
“We were dealing with some pretty tough elevation in some mountainous areas—I would say going 5,000- to 7,000-feet elevation the entire time,” Grabosky says in an interview with The Daily Signal. “So any thought that you were in good shape began to dissipate when you tried to breathe in the thin air. But the scenery and the skies were just beautiful.”
Grabosky, now 33 and living with his family in Jefferson City, Mo., began planning for his cross-country journey back in 2006, after his mother died of cancer. His marriage ended that same year. He wrote a book, “Running With God Across America,” detailing his physical and spiritual journey.
During his cross-country run, Grabosky says, he often would pray the rosary when he encountered a difficult stretch—a technique he picked up from his mother, who was also a runner.
Grabosky is running just as hard and just as long today as he did back then, but he’s not doing it alone.
Grabosky and thousands of other LIFE Runners from across America began their 40-day journey on Feb. 10, Ash Wednesday. They wore jerseys, the backs declaring, “Remember the Unborn—Jeremiah 1:5” and fronts depicting a shield of faith.
The route for this year’s event comprises 5,544 miles. The locations for the start of all four arms of the run Feb. 10 were selected strategically so the runners could form a giant cross at the finish line celebration on Palm Sunday, March 20, at Macken Park in Kansas City, Mo.
The annual “A-Cross America Relay” began in 2013 as an East-West run inspired by Grabosky’s solo run in 2011, which started in Oceanside, Calif., on Jan. 20 and ended at Smith Point in Long Island, N.Y., on May 20.
Along the way, Grabosky met up with Pat Castle, a fellow pro-life activist and marathon runner, who had a vision for what might come next. Castle saw an opportunity to spread the pro-life message by bringing together runners from across the country who shared their Christian convictions.
Grabosky, 33, and Castle, 44, are both practicing Catholics who are ambitious to end the practice of abortion and to protect human life from conception to natural death.
The two men met for the first time in Alton, Ill., on April Fools’ Day as Grabosky was making his way to New York in 2011. Castle, co-founder of LIFE Runners, decided to press ahead with a cross-country run that would draw pro-life activists from around the nation.
The idea here is to put our faith into action and to use the talents God gave us to promote his kingdom. The goal is to raise awareness and funds to help end abortion, but also to grow in our faith.
About 70 runners were part of the group in 2011, Grabosky estimates, and now there are now more than 4,200 members in all 50 states and in 25 countries.
The East Arm (1,598 miles) of this year’s race began at the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City; the West Arm (1,975) at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco; the South Arm (1,086 miles) at Corpus Christi Bay, Texas; and the North Arm (884 miles) at Neche, N.D., near the Canadian border.
>>> Update: About 50 LIFE Runners arrived in Kansas City on Palm Sunday to complete the giant, nationwide cross. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the Resurrection that Christians celebrate at Easter were on the mind of the runners who finished the final stretch, Castle said.
“It is our hope and prayer that through the many miles of redemptive running and walking, LIFE Runners completed in this relay, we were able to help bring about a culture of life in the world,” Castle told The Daily Signal in an email, attaching photos added at the bottom of this post. “The relay may have finished on Palm Sunday, but the battle to protect the dignity of all human life continues.” <<<
The official route swings by abortion clinics, where participants join in prayer with groups associated with the “40 Days for Life” campaign. Runners also could register and run different legs from remote locations. Organizers hoped to cover as much of the actual routes as possible with individual or multiple participants.
Board members wanted to lead by example, so they made a pilgrimage to Nevada on Presidents Day weekend to fill 100 miles of some of the most difficult terrain. Grabosky and Castle were joined by Grant Fenske, 52, who started a LIFE Runners chapter in Lafayette, La.
The Nevada pilgrimage began at a hotel in the town of Tonopah, about a three-hour drive north from McCarran International Airport near Las Vegas. From there, the only stop Grabosky says he remembers is a rest area labeled Area 51 Alien Center.
“We certainly felt like we were in the middle of nowhere,” he recalls.
In an email, Grabosky recounts what happened next:
Saturday, Feb. 13
After waking up early, I waited for the rest of the team to wake up. We rocked out breakfast right away and then took a drive of more than two hours to our starting point on Route 50, dubbed the ‘Loneliest Road in America.’ We snagged some sweet photos of the LIFE Runners banner along with some other good shots with the beautiful scenery surrounding us.
Once we were all done with that, we kicked off the running part of our pilgrimage around 9:45 a.m. as I hit the road for a 9.6-mile run, which began at 4,610-feet elevation and climbed to 5,135-feet elevation. It was tough to breathe the thin air as well as to climb over 500 feet during that leg, but the breathtaking scenery around me and the sun on my face helped quite a bit.
I prayed a rosary during that leg and offered it all up as redemptive running for the unborn as well as those who continued to deal with the pain of abortion. I ran another leg of 3.7 miles next, and the thin air had me feeling completely exhausted and out of breath despite my body feeling fine. I closed out the day with a 2 mile steep uphill run with Pat [Castle].
From here, the team drove about more than two hours to Ely, Nev., where they headed off to Mass. Grabosky writes:
The address for the church we had took us to somewhere that wasn’t even close to the church, so after asking directions from two people, we arrived just a little late, smelling incense as soon as we got out of the car (there was none inside the church). After Mass, the priest saw our LIFE Runners gear and asked us to return the next morning to speak to the parishioners before the 9:30 a.m. Mass. We then headed out for a much-needed meal, where we were approached by a couple who said they loved our shirts and thanked us for spreading a good message. We made it back to our motel and passed out.
Sunday, Feb. 14
We woke up early and hit the road by about 6:30 a.m. I nailed a 7.2-mile run right out of the gate. It was cold and windy, 19 degrees with a wind chill factor of 7 degrees. The scenery was more than worth it, as everything was still and all I could see for miles was snow-capped mountains. Between the three of us, we put in over 15 miles before making it back to the motel to get ready and headed to Mass.
I spoke to the congregation for a few minutes, followed by a few words from Pat. The priest then affirmed our mission and was able to help identify a few LIFE Runners who already belonged to the parish. Pat led the congregation in a LIFE Runners cheer at the request of the priest before we ran through the aisle and out the door.
The team hit the road again on Route 93 for about four miles before getting back onto the main road, Grabosky writes:
After completing a 4.3-mile run, I knocked out a 4-mile run at a good clip before turning onto an unmarked dirt road that made its way through a mountain range toward Utah. It was a brutal stretch that climbed over 800 feet in 4 miles. I finally caught up to Grant [Fenske], who had parked near the summit and we went back and grabbed Pat, who had been waiting a while. We made it back to the summit and Pat and I ran 4 miles together to close out our 100 combined miles, while Grant met us at the end, so we all finished together.
The Scripture on the runners’ jerseys, Jeremiah 1:5, reads: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born, I set you apart.”
With the human cross set to come together Palm Sunday in Kansas City, Grabosky says, LIFE Runners hope to elevate the unique value and distinct possibilities of each human life as the Old Testament prophet expressed it.
>>> Update: Here are some photos from the finish, including one from TV coverage, provided by Pat Castle: