– Our Story –
HOW RUNBORN BEGAN IN 2020
My name is Steve Sousek. I want to start off by saying this testimony has nothing to do with me. It tells of how RUNBORN was a seed that took several years to sprout and emerge. And its second purpose is to inspire other people to be open to recognizing events in their life have reason and bigger meaning – chapters to their life story if you will. Fleeting thoughts or events as they happen may seem insignificant at the moment, but as we look back sometimes they piece together an intricate puzzle. The following re-telling of events is only a partial story, but it captures what I consider significant details of how RUNBORN came into existence.
You need to know that I am not a life-long runner, at least not distance running. As a youth I always enjoyed running, and by running I mean fast and for a relatively short period of time. It was only in my 4th decade of life (2010) that I started running long distance – never before had I run anything longer than 2 miles, and maybe only 3 or 4 times longer than 1 mile, and that was in my 20’s. I started out with a terrible experience running the Lincoln half marathon in May 2010. So bad that I didn’t run again for 7 months. So bad that I vowed to run the 2011 Lincoln half marathon to prove I could do it and save my own personal pride. I trained diligently, ran it well, and that is how I got hooked on long distance running. God has taken me on quite a journey, and it all started with that miserable half marathon in 2010. Looking back, God tilled the soil to prepare it for the seed. This spring was my 10-year anniversary of becoming a long-distance runner and I have no idea how many 5k, 10k, 15k, half marathons, and all kinds of distances in between that I have completed. That time frame has also included five 50k, a 45 mile, and three 50 mile races.
One other prep/side step for my story – my dad always seemed to take interest and some pride in my accomplishments of being able to run these races, especially the half marathons, marathons and the one 50k I did before he passed away. My mom on the other hand, I think out of a motherly concern for me and my wellbeing, thought I was crazy for doing these long distance runs and all the time and miles I spent training for them, and told me that more than once. She thought I could be making better use of my time and health.
Little did I know what God was preparing me for by small and incremental bits. It was in the winter of 2013 or 2014 that I recall my first ‘experience’ and started wondering what it might mean. It was after the Lincoln Walk for Life and I was on a Saturday long training run on the hilly trail in the Highlands neighborhood in Lincoln. I remember hating running up those hills because it was so tiring and laboring for me. For a distraction I started thinking about the aborted babies and offering up my ‘pain’ for them. Suddenly I sensed all these little children running along with me, full of joy and laughter and energy as they ran up the hill. They lifted my spirits and I, too, began to enjoy running up the hill with them. It was almost like they were moving my legs for me and made it effortless for me. That day was a turning point for me and ever since I have always enjoyed running up hills because I feel at any point I start to tire I can just ask them to help me or give me strength and they will join me running up that hill. I started referring to them as “my kids that run with me”. The seed was planted.
As this continued I began to think that I need to use my running for some purpose other than just accomplishing my own goals, satisfying my personal challenges, and for my own fulfillment. I was nowhere close to being an elite runner, but maybe God gave me enough running talent to fulfill some task he desired from me. For the most part I tucked this away in the back of my mind but from time to time it would resurface. I would ponder and wonder about it but never considered any action.
When I did think about it, some of my thoughts were remembering when I was in high school and being one of the fastest kids in my class but not being able to go out for sports because I needed to help on the family farm. I remember trying to use the argument back then that God gave me a talent to run fast so I should be using that talent by playing sports – it didn’t work. I couldn’t help to think that maybe God is helping me recall my teenage words and this is the time in my life God is asking me to use the running talent he gave me. Since I was having the experience with “my kids” I thought maybe I should be doing something related to increasing awareness for the unborn. Around this time I had also started dedicating each of my races to or for someone who inspired me by the life they lived or who had asked for prayers. In particular, I ran races regularly for a young girl named Sarah, a daughter of close friends of mine who was undergoing a series of several surgeries and was very inspiring by her attitude. Every time I ran a race for her I always seemed to accomplish results beyond what I thought I could achieve. She gave me strength just like my kids.
During this time I also started hearing stories from Fr. Kubat, who was administrator for St. Gianna’s Women’s Home. He frequently mentioned how the women there were not only escaping violence but there were some who were also escaping being forced to have an abortion. That planted the seed that maybe I could be doing something for them. I felt a connection there because I too was in a physical abusive relationship (yes, it is true, men can be on the other side of the abusive relationship also) and I could relate to how these women were scared and in need of support. I wondered if the purpose of me experiencing it myself was to prepare me to have greater understanding of their need.
Other “God moments” that were coming upon me included a 2:00 a.m. adoration hour in our church chapel at a time I was going through some challenges, difficulties, and confusion and I was asking God to give me some direction of what he was calling me to do with my life. A lady came in near the end of my hour, knelt in a pew in front of me, and in large print on the back of her shirt it said, ““I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord” (Jer 29:11)”. Seeing that gave me great peace for my challenges I was praying about. But quite awhile after that I realized that message was for my running also, and I just needed to be patient to let God reveal it to me at the right time.
“I know well the plans I have in mind for you,” says the Lord.
In 2016 my running capabilities really took a large jump. So much so that my marathon times started approaching the requirement to qualify for the Boston Marathon, something I never had in my sites or goals at all. I started winning cash prizes for placing in the top 3 finishers in my age group in races and felt like I had become a somewhat competitive runner. I wasn’t quite sure how it happened, it just did. Then I started thinking about doing longer races, maybe 50 or even 100 miles could be in my future. I wondered if I could do those length races. When that happened, God started giving me direction. It was time. 2017 and 2018 is when the RUNBORN seed finally sprouted.
My thoughts about using my running for some benefit became much more frequent and regular. I felt strongly God really did want me to do something, maybe even something I wasn’t comfortable with, which was a little scary for me.
I was concentrating on that original seed or idea to run to promote Pro-Life, and for the unborn and against abortion in particular. Sometimes I would run by St. Gianna’s Women’s Home. One day as I passed by St. Gianna’s about mile 3.5 of a 20 mile run I started getting flooded with ideas I should tribute a charity run for them because I could run for abused women and at-risk unborn children both at the same time. The next 16.5 miles that is all I thought about and I had tons of ideas about what I could do and details of how I could do this quest. I even came up with the name RUNBORN and the tag line “Running for Their Lives” that day. I could run for the unborn, and at the same time run for these women who were running for their lives in some instances. I didn’t really take any action on it but I did tell my son and daughter-in-law what had happened and continually kept mulling it over in my mind and wondering if I could accomplish the idea I had that day – a solo run, running 520 miles across Nebraska, the equivalency of 20 marathons, in 20 consecutive days, to raise awareness and funds for St. Gianna’s and also some organization promoting pro-life and protecting the unborn. Being an engineer all the numbers just made sense in my mind – I could do it when I was 52 years old, I would be running 10 miles for every year of my age, and 520 miles just happens to be the equivalency of 20 marathons – how cool is that! I really felt driven by the idea but I had lots of hesitancy because I had plenty of doubt if I could actually accomplish such a run. So although I was excited, I really continued to drag my feet. The seed was sprouting but not emerging yet.
In May 2017 my son, daughter-in-law, and I drove to Arapahoe, NE, to attend a special Mass celebrating the 100 year anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima at the Fatima Shrine located there. After the Mass, we attended a luncheon and then we stopped back at the shrine for a short visit and to walk around the area. We were observing a life-size bronze Rachel statue created for Project Rachel (help for finding forgiveness, healing, and peace after an abortion) when we were approached by a woman who told us all about the statue and it’s purpose. We came to learn that she was actually the sculptor of the statue. She was there to attend the Mass and also to review a clay scale model of a male statue with the Bishop that she was working on to create a sculpture similarly for fathers to heal from abortion. We were able to see the clay model and hear her explanation of the meanings of its features. She had also drawn a portrait of Mary (Our Lady of Fatima) that morning while at the Shrine and she signed and gave it to me to keep. I took all this as yet another sign from God to encourage my running quest.
In December 2017, I decided to try running a 45-mile race from Kansas City to Lawrence, Kansas and started training for the April 2018 event. My first real ultra. My mom passed away in January 2018 and I decided I was going to dedicate the race to her. Mostly my reason was because she was such a great mom and I wanted to offer up all the hard training I would have to do for this race as a tribute to all the hard work and sacrifice she did her entire life for our family, along with my dad. But part of my reason is because I wanted to show her that I could use my running for something good, I could offer it up for others. So at this time I also started sharing my 520-mile run idea with a few people because I started feeling more committed now that I had to do it.
Another sign I felt I received at this time was an article I saw on St. Stephen in the Southern Nebraska Register. This was the text that spoke to me:
“This spirit of attachment from material things continued in the early Church, but such radical charity ran up against the cultural conflict between Jews and Gentiles, when a group of Greek widows felt neglected in their needs, as compared to those of a Jewish background. Stephen’s reputation for holiness led the Apostles to choose him, along with 6 other men, to assist them in an official and unique way as this dispute arose. Through the sacramental power given them by Christ, the Apostles ordained the seven men as deacons, and set them to work helping the widows.”
There were a lot of individual words and phrases in this that really jumped out at me with meaning and just seemed to fit together like a puzzle. So in trying to use running as a means to raise money to help support these women in crisis situations I felt I could follow in my patron saint’s footsteps (no pun intended). It was reinforcing my thoughts from nearly a year earlier when I first conceived the name RUNBORN and “Running for Their Lives”. Some of these women at St. Gianna’s were running for their lives – I could run for their lives, too, as well as for the lives of the unborn. I truly felt I was on a path God was planning.
I completed my 45 mile run 31 minutes faster than my goal and I finished in 13th place. Everyone who finished faster than me was in their 30’s except for one guy who was 42. Running the race for my mom was great motivation for me at the struggle times, and I had “my kids” helping me run some of the tougher hills. And the best part was having my grandson greet me at the end of the race wearing this awesome onesie. Amazingly, and surprisingly, I felt pretty good after the race and only took 2 days off from running after it. More encouragement for me.
Two weeks later I ran two ½ marathons on consecutive days and then two weeks after that I ran the Lincoln Marathon followed by a 50 mile race 6 days later. I wasn’t able to complete the full 50 miles but I still was encouraged what my body did in a 5 week span without any injury or issues or concerns. More encouragement. I began to share my RUNBORN idea with even more people.
In July 2018 I ran my first Boston Qualifying time in a marathon. However, after registration closed in September and they adjusted the requirements to faster times to reduce the number of eligible runners, I ended up being 8 seconds too slow. I started to wonder if maybe that was a sign God wanted me to concentrate on RUNBORN for summer of 2019 instead of training for Boston Marathon in April. After all, in July 2019 I would be turning 53, beyond my age of 52 that the 520 mile run was based on.
Well, I still had cold feet and doubts in 2019. I didn’t really have enough vacation to do a 20-day run, at least that is what I convinced myself. I wondered if maybe I needed to change it to a 10-day event and run 50 miles a day. Before I could do that I decided I needed to complete some 50 mile runs to see if I could even run that distance. I was able to complete my first 50 mile race in May, 2019, and that was enough to help me decide I needed to start moving forward with RUNBORN and make it a 10-day event. I had another 50-mile race already scheduled for July in Leadville, Colorado, so I decided I would continue my training for that race and start planning RUNBORN for summer of 2020.
In August 2019, I attended a conference by Dr. Pat Castle, founder of LIFE Runners. I was familiar with him and his story with LIFE Runners and felt he would be an inspiration for me to get started on my RUNBORN planning. It was a great conference/retreat and I had opportunities to converse with Dr. Castle, who was very encouraging. The biggest impact of the day though was another God moment. As I browsed over a table containing some of the items Dr. Castle had displayed in regards to LIFE Runners, I could not believe what I saw. Right before my eyes was a Knights of Columbus Columbia magazine I think from 2012 or 2014 that contained a feature article on LIFE Runners. It showed a picture of a LIFE Runner completing a race and in bold letters across the top of the page was the article title: Running for Their Lives. I was in awe! Another sign.
Six weeks later I completed my 2nd Boston Qualifying time in a marathon, the last date you could run to qualify for the 2020 Boston Marathon. I was nearly 2 minutes faster than my previous time. I registered for Boston the next day, and about 10 days later, after they adjusted the times to limit the field of eligible runners, I found out I missed it by 2 seconds. After the disappointment wore off I began to think it was another sign that I need to concentrate on training for doing RUNBORN in summer 2020 and not be distracted by running Boston in April.
I started to actually do some planning and outlined dates on the calendar. I started telling more people about it figuring if I tell enough people then I would have to do it. During the summer I had talked to people about doing a website but I hadn’t really started that yet. I definitely wanted to use the run to raise money for St. Gianna’s but I still felt drawn to picking another organization that was more related to helping the unborn. I had been considering Birthright, but something just wasn’t right. I felt like I was just picking something to pick something. I was still dragging my feet on really taking action on RUNBORN.
A couple other things happened during the summer and fall of 2019 that also were prompting me to focus on the unborn. Brian, the person who would help with my website, mentioned to me Down Syndrome babies have a high percentage of abortion. As I talked about some ideas for a logo he also told me they have distinct markings in their footprint that you can identify with Down Syndrome. So I started thinking about how this might fit into RUNBORN. Then one Sunday Mass where I was the lector, a young boy with Down Syndrome brought money up to Father Connor during the children’s offertory, gave him a hug, and then made a bee line to me sitting in the lector’s chair behind the pulpit. I wasn’t sure what was going on, and Father and I, and everyone else, just watched and were wandering what he was doing. It was just one of those moments where it happened and everyone just observed. He came up to me with a huge smile, gave me a big hug, and then turned and headed back to his pew. I cannot tell you how much joy I felt and I am sure I had a smile from ear to ear. I just couldn’t help but think how much love this little boy has and how he must be impacting so many people the same way. He just loved people, unconditionally. I felt that hug was another nudge for me to start RUNBORN. It helped me start getting beyond wondering if I could physically do this run, and instead just trusting God that if He is calling me to do this then He will provide me what I need to get it done, both the run and the quest in general.
It was in mid-December 2019 that I finally made the COMMITMENT to do the run in 2020. I remember the words being planted in my mind firmly, “God is calling me to do this. I can no longer resist.” For the most part, all those ideas and thoughts that flooded my mind on that original 20 mile run were still intact, including using the name “RUNBORN” and the tag line “RUNNING FOR THEIR LIVES”. However, I still felt a little at a loss not sure what the other “half” of my charity support would be besides St. Gianna’s to fulfill the Pro-Life side. I was still considering Birthright, but for some reason I just felt I was looking for something else. And then to my amazement, yet another God moment. The first Sunday in January 2020 our parish Pro-Life coordinator, Lisa, talked at the end of Mass about Pro-Life activities coming up and she also announced the building across from Planned Parenthood had been purchased with the intent to put a Women’s Care Center in that building to offer women considering an abortion another alternative. She gave information on a fundraising effort that was being started to raise money to renovate the building. Immediately God told me this is the Pro-Life connection for my RUNBORN quest. This is the reason He has been preparing me for several years and has nudged me to embark on this quest now at this time.
Shortly after that I met Sarah, who is leading the effort to establish the Women’s Care Center in Lincoln, and began planning for RUNBORN. I didn’t think it was possible, but with the encouragement of my daughter-in-law Tess, who is responsible for all the graphic design, we forged forward rapidly through some logo ideas and concepts and she came up with the final designs with just enough time for me to print some business cards and hand them out at the 2020 Lincoln Walk For Life. This was the first ‘public’ revealing of RUNBORN. The date was January 18, 2020 – the 2-year anniversary of my mom passing away. I couldn’t help but think, just maybe, my mom was helping me with one of my “crazy” running quests. May she rest in peace.