Jeff Grabosky is no ordinary Catholic athlete. On May 21, he reached the Atlantic Ocean at Smith Point, Long Island, N.Y., to complete a run he started in Oceanside, Calif., on Jan. 20. In 121 days, his coast-to-coast run tallied an incredible 3,701.8 miles — and he prayed from start to finish.
Why did he even consider such a challenge? From an athletic standpoint, it was a big step up from the marathons he had done and other runs to raise money for various charities.
“But I wanted to basically make a difference in the world,” Grabosky explained, “and what better way than by praying for people? I wanted to help everyone. Running is a talent of mine; using that talent to spread the Good News is my way of giving back.”
Moreover, he believes “prayer is the best way to encourage people to make time for God in their daily lives. It makes things much easier if you do that.”
Grabosky chose to start his epic journey on Jan. 20 because it’s the feast of St. Sebastian, patron of athletes and a personal favorite of Grabosky’s. He has always prayed to the saint “to intercede for me to be given the strength I need to complete each race,” he said. “St. Sebastian was a person who was not afraid to stand up for right, no matter the cost. I’m here, so he’s doing his thing.”
Along the route, Grabosky got the strength to face many challenges, from pushing an 80-pound stroller with supplies until he reached Arlington, Va. (he then carried a backpack) to facing multiple physical obstacles: from sciatica and multiple blisters the last few hundred miles, including battling through 16 miles of a fierce dust storm in Texas with constant 40 mph winds and 60 mph gusts.
He wore out 12 pairs of running shoes — a good biblical number, he points out.
He’s used to overcoming adversity. In 2005, he graduated from the University of Notre Dame and got married, only to see everything unravel quickly. In 2006, his mother, Valerie, who always took young Jeff and his brother and sister to the school track to run, died of cancer. A week later, his wife said she didn’t want to be married anymore and left him. Moving to Alexandria to be closer to family, Grabosky himself had surgery in 2008 to remove part of a collapsed lung.
But the following year he ran a 100-mile ultra-marathon that he purposefully chose to deepen his prayer life.
He prayed continuous Rosaries over the four months, as he ran nearly 50 miles per day. He prayed a decade for each intention people requested. He included his own daily intentions, too.
“It kept me very busy and focused on the run,” Grabosky said. “Lots of times the intentions involved people who were struggling much more than I was. That kept me keep going and finishing. Strange how that worked out, because I was praying for their intentions, but, at the same time, those intentions were helping me to get to my finish line as well.”
Intentions that involved those struggling with cancer and other diseases, and those facing divorces, especially stood out.
“I could connect on that level,” he said, “and knew the feelings and difficulties that went along with it.”
Through word of mouth, the press and his website, JeffRunsAmerica.com, prayer requests came in from around the globe.
As the intentions poured in, and through the encouragement of people he met along the way,” he felt “a lot of good coming my way.”
But that’s not all. “I felt other forces didn’t want me to finish,” he said. That’s why he started every morning praying the St. Michael prayer, which he learned at his parish of St. Mary’s in Alexandria, for protection.
Grabosky says the best part was meeting great people along the trip: “I was not expecting it to happen. But people were showing me great kindness and generosity.
“Qualities I’ve seen in people along the run definitely made me want to be a better person. It was truly a great blessing.”
People would stop and give him a few dollars, ask if he needed anything or offer him a place to stay. “I saw what people are willing to do even with what little they have,” he said, “and that has really inspired me to show others the same kindness I was shown.”
At a few stops, he stayed with relatives or old college friends: in Phoenix, Oklahoma City, at Notre Dame, Arlington and his hometown of Holmdel, N.J.
“I wanted this run to be a full-on experience, not only of the country, but of people I got to know along the way,” Grabosky said.
He stopped in Holmdel, where his mother is buried, and recalled the way she inspired him in so many ways, including her example of praying when she ran.
Looking back on the run, Grabosky said: “I thank God every day for this opportunity and for the blessings he’s shown me on the way. I really feel God was with me every step and leading the way. No way I would have the strength to get through the miles I did otherwise.”
Like his journey, he puts everything in God’s hands.
He explains: “I believe I am where I’m supposed to be now, and … if I stay true to him, and believe in his plan, he will lead me to where I should go next. I definitely leave things in his hands. I feel confident he will lead me to a great place. I think it’s all about living in God’s will, doing everything we can do, just living as Jesus taught us. We’ve done what we’re supposed to when God says, ‘Well done my good and faithful servant.’”
Grabosky likes to point to one of his favorite Bible verses, 1 Corinthians 9:24 — “Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win.”
He believes we should live our lives in such a way to win the ultimate prize. “I’ve given everything I can and more to this run,” he said. “If I can do the same with my life, I will consider my life a success.”
Register staff writer Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.