In last October’s Twin Cities Marathon, two runners stood out in the crowded field of competitors. Not only were they wearing bright pink tee shirts, but the shirts were emblazoned with bold statements of purpose: “Mom of 6 Running for Life” and “Mom of 10 Running for Life.”
What’s more, Juli Currie and Mary Ryan did more than finish the grueling race while proclaiming their pro-life convictions for all to see. They raised enough funds to help Prolife Across America launch its new billboard campaign in the St. Paul-Minneapolis metro area in January.
The full-size billboards feature photos of beautiful babies along with a headline quoting the 139th Psalm: “God Knew My Soul Before I Was Born.”
Last year there weren’t the funds to do a campaign, says Prolife Across America founder and director MaryAnn Kuharski, but things are different this year because of the “running mothers.” This marked the second Twin Cities Marathon the two good friends and homeschooling moms ran to raise funds for Prolife Across America (online at ProlifeAcrossAmerica.org).
“People train for marathons and races for different charities, and our hearts were very much with the pro-life cause,” explains Ryan, of Maple Plain, Minn., whose 10 children range in age from 11 to 30. She says they “wanted to do something to thank God for the blessings of a big family and promote that.”
“This year our goal was to raise $1,800 because we could do three smaller billboards on country roads, not major roads,” adds Currie, mother of five boys and a girl, ages 3 to 12, in the Minneapolis suburb of Chanhassen. The local diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Spirit of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, ran two articles on the women’s endeavor — one just before the race and a follow-up just after.
“It started to rain money,” says a surprised Ryan. “God incredibly inspired these people. When we got this note from Prolife Across America, I was expecting maybe up to $2,000. I had to adjust my eyes a couple of times to see that the first digit was a seven.”
Currie had the same reaction for the $7,400 total — quite a jump from 2006’s total of $1,200.
And the supporters weren’t done yet. By late December the sum topped $8,000.
“One man sent in $500 and said he read about it in the paper,” says Kuharski. “He didn’t know who the women were, but he said that, if any two mothers would do that, he wanted to be a part of it.” Kuharski opened another envelope to watch two checks fall out — $1,000 for each runner from another inspired donor who wishes to remain anonymous.
So it is that, thanks to the running mothers’ dedication and the donors’ response, tens of thousands of Twin Cities commuters are right now coming face to face with a baby, a Bible verse and a beseechment to respect human life in all stages of its development.
During the race itself, which drew close to 10,000 runners and half a million spectators, Currie and Ryan promoted life twice — once coming and then again going. The backs of their T-shirts read: “Cherish life, it begins at conception / Running for Prolife Across America.”
“It was our little way,” says Currie, “to witness.”
She began running to get in shape after her fifth baby was born. Soon her goal was to run a marathon. She ran her first in 2005. In 2007 she ran three.
Ryan has run seven Twin City Marathons since starting to run seven years ago. When people saw her shirt this year and asked in amazement, “You have 10 children?” she answered, “No, my husband and I have 10. It’s a we thing.” In fact, husband Ed runs the marathon with her to stay in shape, but at a different pace.
It’s also a team thing for Currie and her husband, Bill. On the morning of the marathon, he and the children “pray the Rosary for us and the runners before they come down,” she says. “After they see us at mile 16, they go down to the finish line.” In October’s race he urged her on at a critical point. Because of very hot weather, hundreds of runners dropped out and landed in the hospital. She almost did, too.
“For me it was profound because it was a difficult race,” she explains. “I was offering it up for all those babies and women having hard pregnancies and babies suffering abortions. It’s only by the grace of God that I finished that day.”
Hooked on Helping
Ryan seconds the challenge. But coming out of mile 21 she got renewed energy, as did Currie, when they passed St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul. All the seminarians turned out in their black suits to loudly cheer on the running mothers. “It carried me to the end,” Ryan says, “just knowing the commitment they’re making in their lives.”
Something similar happened for Father John Klockeman, spiritual director and formator at St. John Vianney’s, who ran the Twin Cities 10-Mile Race accompanying the marathon. He says the Lord wanted to have them run right past the seminary in a reflection of Hebrews 12:1-2: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us … persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.”
“We need one another to support, edify and encourage one another,” he says. “There are a lot of spiritual lessons running a marathon.”
Just so, the two moms have inspired the priest to begin organizing other runners to join in next October’s 10-miler — wearing pro-life T-shirts, of course, and raising even more funds for Prolife Across America.
As for the two running mothers, they plan to keep giving their moving witness — pun intended — and funding billboards as long as they’re able.
“God started something,” says Ryan. “We won’t be able to run a marathon without trying to help out in some way. The Lord got us hooked here.”
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen
is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.