Sister Stephanie Baliga sets out to break treadmill marathon record, raise money for the poor

Like many major events this year, the Chicago Marathon is cancelled. But Sister Stephanie Baliga, a Franciscan Sister of the Eucharist in Chicago, is keeping her commitment to run a marathon for her community – and she’s aiming to break a world record in the process.

Sr. Stephanie stopped by Morning Air® this week to discuss her marathon plans, how running helps her prayer life, and the impact her marathon will have on her neighbors in Chicago’s West Humboldt Park.

As the head of Team OLA, a group that runs the Chicago Marathon and Shamrock Shuffle each year, Sister Stephanie has kept her spirits up, despite the Chicago Marathon’s cancellation. They had 103 people signed up to run as part of Team OLA this year, but now a significant portion of them are running virtually. Sister Stephanie will be running her marathon on Sunday, August 23, and is inviting people to join her on Zoom to motivate her, pray with her, and keep her focused.

Sister Stephanie is running the marathon to raise funds for the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels in West Humboldt Park, one of Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods. The Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist minister to the community through the Mission, providing spiritual and material support. She shared with Morning Air listeners that, due to the pandemic, the amount of families seeking assistance at their food pantry has tripled in recent months.

“We are serving 3,000 families a month through our food pantry right now, and each family who comes is getting 50-60 pounds of food,” she said. “So that has been our main focus. We’re also in the process of renovating the old Our Lady of the Angels school building to be our new outreach center to the neighborhood. So once the coronavirus is over we are going to open that up to do more outreach.”

She also has her sights set on breaking the world record for women’s treadmill marathoning. She admitted that this is within grasp because not many people opt to run a marathon on a treadmill, and this will be an extra motivation to keep her going through all 26.2 miles.

Another element that motivates Sister Stephanie on her long runs is prayer. She said, “I’m going to be praying for different donors and different people who have supported me each mile of the race. And then also I’ll be praying the Rosary most of the time, just to keep my mind focused.”

“I personally think that running is a good way to pray in general,” she added. “It is a way to calm your body and your mind down so you can focus and listen better to Jesus. The treadmill makes it a little bit harder, it is easier outside, but it helps me to focus on prayer.”

Running has played a significant role in Sister Stephanie’s life. In college her Division I cross country team at the University of Illinois was nationally ranked, and she herself was ranked as the 6th best freshman in the nation. But a foot injury sidelined her in her sophomore year. Sister Stephanie shared how that affected her faith and the course of her entire life.

“I was very, very focused on running and school,” she said of her early years in college. “And after the injury my sophomore year of college I was forced to re-evaluate my life’s priorities. And through that experience I ended up going on a retreat where I had a very powerful experience of Jesus’ presence in adoration and knew that Jesus was present in the Eucharist.”

“It changed my life forever because I knew that if Jesus was present in the Eucharist then I couldn’t live my life the same way I was living it. I wanted to be the best place for Jesus to be possible, so I started to learn how to pray, catechize myself, and grow in my relationship with God. It was amazing.”

Listen to the full conversation below and cheer on Sister Stephanie August 23rd. You can find more information at the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels.

Morning Air can be heard weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. Central on Relevant Radio® and the Relevant Radio App.