Chicago man to run 120 marathons for clean water

With the goal of bringing water to 30,000 people in Kenya, a former Chicago area pastor aims to run the equivalent of 3,243 miles in 21 consecutive weeks.

By James Addis, Word Vision U.S.
Published April 8, 2013 at 12:00am PDT

A former Chicago area pastor plans to run across the United States at a rate of 35 miles a day for more than four months in a bid to raise $1.5 million for clean water.

3,243 miles = 120 marathons

Steve Spear, 49, began the herculean effort in Los Angeles on April 8 with an estimated arrival in New York in August — a distance of 3,243 miles.

He plans to run six or seven hours each day, five days a week. During the course of the event, he aims to run the equivalent distance of more than 120 marathons. Along the way, he will speak to churches and civic organizations, encouraging people to support the cause for water.

Meanwhile, Steve has quit his job as a Willow Creek Community Church pastor to devote himself to preparing for and completing the big run.

Running to change lives

Steve says the decision to embark on the run follows a growing conviction that God was calling him to run to change lives. It’s a surprising turn of events, given that he had a strong aversion to running for many years.

“If you had told me five years ago, when I was a complete non-runner, that I would be doing something like this, I would have said you are completely out of your mind,” he says.

Things changed in 2007 when Steve was asked to join Team World Vision and run the Chicago Marathon to raise money to help millions of children and families who have no ready access to clean water.

He said he would much rather write a check; but after months of gentle arm-twisting, he was persuaded to subject himself to the inconvenience of lengthy training to participate in the race. He managed to complete the marathon and raise $1,000.

From that point on, there was no looking back.

For the 2008 Chicago Marathon, Steve organized a team from Willow Creek to participate, and in 2010 he ran the 56-mile Comrades Marathon in South Africa, also to raise money for clean water projects.

The goal: Clean water for 30,000 people

Last year, the importance of the cause was reinforced when Steve visited his sponsored child, 7-year-old Winnie, who lives in Kenya’s Rift Valley. Winnie must walk four miles a day to lug home a five-gallon container of water collected from a contaminated river.

Steve notes about a billion people in the world lack access to clean water, but the figure had always paralyzed him. How could he realistically help a billion people?

But he came to believe that he could realistically help about 30,000 — roughly the populations of the various towns and suburbs he has lived in during the course of his life.

The cost of supplying 30,000 people with clean water as part of a World Vision water supply project in Kenya is about $1.5 million — hence the fundraising goal for Steve’s run.

Winnie’s community will be among those to benefit from the project.

‘In God’s hands’

Training for the big run went well, says Steve. He has successfully run five marathons in six days but concedes that one good week is a far cry from stringing together an even more demanding effort for 21 consecutive weeks.

But he says the project is all in “God’s hands,” and part of his preparation includes memorizing Hebrews 11 — a list of famous characters of the Bible who exhibited great faith.

Steve is also being assisted by an elite running coach, an orthopedic surgeon, a physical therapist, and a massage therapist who have all volunteered their time and expertise.

How you can help

Please pray for Steve as he undertakes this extreme physical challenge in order to help bring clean water to 30,000 people.

Follow Steve’s progress and support his effort with Team World Vision.

Make a one-time donation to World Vision’s Clean Water Fund. Your gift will support our clean water, hygiene, and sanitation projects around the world through interventions like deep wells, water storage containers, piping systems, purification equipment, latrines, and more.