A Benedictine monk at St. Anselm's Abbey in Washington recently told me about Jeff Grabosky, a Notre Dame graduate who is running from California to New York. Jeff's life hit rock-bottom, and instead of going on a marathon pub crawl, he decided to undertake a 3,700-mile super-hyper-ultra-marathon on foot across America to clear his head and reorient his life. He says his mission is "to use this run to deepen my own personal prayer life and hopefully help others strengthen theirs." Below is a conversation I had with Jeff about this incredible feat of endurance and what keeps him going on that long and lonesome highway.
What's the hardest part of this run? The physical test? So much time to yourself and your own thoughts?
The physical challenge of this run is extremely hard, but the most difficult part is fighting the mental battles every day. The distance alone plays games with your mind, sometimes making it seem like an impossible task. Other times, it's the amount of time spent in solitude, and despite keeping myself busy with prayers, it longs for something else to keep it occupied. While the body may beg me to quit, it's more of a challenge to dismiss the mind, which often tries to command me to stop.
How does prayer work while you're running? How many prayers will you have done by the end of your journey?
It varies but I usually say a decade or two of the Rosary per mile. I try to intently pray on each request, so if the road is very busy or I'm going through rough terrain, I wait until it clears out before getting started again. Based on prayer requests I get through my website, emails, intentions of my own and those I receive on the road, I have gone to God with close to 2,000 intentions, which at a decade per intention works out to 20,000 Hail Mary's. I'm two-thirds of the way done so should finish with around 3,500 different intentions. It's definitely a lot of praying, but that's the point. If this run reminds just a few people to make time to talk to the Lord or encourages them to pray for each other, then I will consider the run a great success.
What's your view of the state of the world? Is part of this run an effort to make reparation for a society on the wrong track?
While there are certainly good things happening, my personal view is that people seem more and more involved with the world and less involved with God. It doesn't appear to me that worldly success actually results in happiness, but rather leaves people constantly longing for more. I'm hoping this run will remind people to make time for God in their daily lives. It would be a small step in the right direction; if God is involved in our thoughts then our decisions will be less about serving ourselves and more about looking out for those around us. If more people started thinking and acting that way, our troubled world really would change.
Are there any particular problems in our culture today (abortion, divorce, etc.) that help you appreciate the importance of prayer more than others?
Out of all the problems out there, abortion helps me appreciate the importance of prayer the most. Unfortunately, the unborn do not get a say in whether they ever see the light of day so it's of the utmost importance to pray for them and their expectant mothers.
Are you inspired by any particular historical figures?
Saint Sebastian is the patron saint of athletes and my personal patron saint. During my first marathon, I said a prayer to him late in the run and moments later felt unbelievably fresh, with the last few miles being the fastest of the entire race. He was a saint who led those around him to God and was not afraid to take a stand for what he knew was right. His feast day is Jan. 20, which is why I chose that as the day to start my run across the country.
Is there any song, poem or scripture passage that helps keep the wind at your back?
My favorite passage from scripture is from 1 Corinthians. It references running while emphasizing self-discipline and living with a purpose. It keeps me focused on what I'm doing and motivates me to stay strong in my physical and spiritual life. It says: "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the game goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore, I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize."
How can people who read this story help you?
The best way people can help me on this journey is to keep me in their prayers and send any intentions they have to me through my website (jeffrunsamerica.com).
What message would you like readers to take away from your story?
I'm hoping others will see that nothing is impossible when God is involved. The beginning of this story was the death of my mother, the end of my marriage, living out of my car and recovering from a collapsed lung. On their own, it seems terrible, but it shows God has a plan for each of us and can make great things happen out of bad situations. Finally, I hope this run encourages people to make time for God in their daily lives and to pray for not only their own needs, but for everyone around them.
Brett M. Decker is editorial page editor of The Washington Times.
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