Before joining the Franciscans of the Eucharist of Chicago’s religious community in 2010, Sister Stephanie Baliga was a cross-country runner at Illinois State University.
Even when her focus shifted to charitable work, she never stopped running. Since 2011, she has organized an annual team of over 100 people to compete in the Chicago Marathon and raise money for others in need!
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit her West Humboldt Park neighborhood and this year’s marathon was canceled, she knew she would have to find another way to support the Mission of Our Lady of Angel’s community outreach program.
Supplies in their food pantry have reached critically low levels since the start of the pandemic, so this wasn’t the time to sit back and hope for the best.
“A lot of businesses in surrounding streets were looted and destroyed,” Stephanie told CBS Chicago. “We were the only real place to get food in our direct neighborhood for a week. We’ve been serving three times as many people as normal.”
So Stephanie reached out to her running team with a novel idea. What if she ran an entire 26.2-mile marathon on the treadmill in her convent’s basement? Everyone was immediately on board, and the convent set up an online fundraiser with a goal of $80,000.
After a little research, Stephanie realized no female amateur runner had ever won a Guinness World Record for recording a marathon on a treadmill — and quickly decided to go for that too!
On August 23, she hopped on the treadmill surrounded by her fellow nuns. They made sure her entire race was livestreamed on Facebook and Zoom, where her friends and relatives kept her company virtually.
“I was in a lot of pain in mile 23 and 24,” she admitted, but like anyone on a mission, she pressed on! Her running idol, Olympian Deena Kastor, even jumped on the Zoom call to cheer her on as she fought her way to the end of the race.
“She’s my absolute childhood hero,” Stephanie said later. “I had posters of her on my wall, she’s my dream come true.”
After 3 hours and 33 minutes, Stephanie completed the grueling marathon! In the process, she raised over $110,000 for Mission OLA, and donations are still rolling in online!
While she is deeply grateful to everyone who donated, she was moved by the experience as well.
“It is really beautiful because we’ve been delivering lots and lots of food to senior citizens stuck in their houses since March,” she told Chicago Tribune. “I’m doing this in solidarity with them. I’ve been blessed and have a normal-ish life. My life hasn’t completely stopped. To run in solidarity with people who have had to put their life on hold, it’s a very powerful prayer experience.”
Clearly, this awesome nun isn’t afraid to walk the walk, or in this case, run the run! Stephanie refused to take no for an answer and just so happened to set a world record in the process. Thank you for reminding us that where there’s a will, there’s always a way!
Share this story to thank the real-life hero.
Want to be happier in just 5 minutes a day? Sign up for the Happiness Subscription and get the #1 daily good news email, expert health & wellness tips, and more! Learn more.