Runners brave the summer heat during pro-life effort
Friday, Jul. 31, 2020
Several members of St. Andrew Parish in Riverton joined in the A-Cross America Relay, July 14 in support of the unborn. Pictured from front right are Maricela Flores, Jose Flores, Ana Aragueta, Hanna Anderson and James Anderson. IC photo/Linda Petersen
BLUFFDALE — In the sweltering heat of the afternoon of July 14, a small group of runners and walkers huffed and puffed their way along Redwood Road through Bluffdale and Riverton. The backs of their blue shirts were emblazoned with the words “Remember the Unborn” and a scripture reference, Jer. 1:5 (“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you”).
Each of those risking sunburn and heatstroke that day were members of LifeRunners, a nationwide group that aims to draw attention to the plight of those whose lives are lost to abortion. The 10 runners were members of the LifeRunners chapter from St. Andrew Parish in Riverton. They were participating in the A-Cross America Relay, an annual run that highlights the victims of abortion.
The relay, which began July 4, is scheduled to end Aug. 9.
Each year, the A-Cross America Relay starts at four different points in the United States: California, Minnesota, Connecticut and Texas. It ends in Overland Park, Kansas. Members of local chapters sign up for one or more 3.2-mile legs of the run. This year 14,500 people were scheduled to run the relay.
Scott O’Connor became involved with LifeRunners in 2013 in Denver, Colo., where his local parish had a chapter. Last year, when he and his wife Brooke moved to Utah and began attending St. Andrew’s, he approached pastor Father Marco Lopez for permission to start a chapter. Fr. Lopez not only supported the formation of the chapter, the first in Utah, he also agreed to be its chaplain.
O’Connor began organizing the local LifeRunners chapter in January, speaking at church events and reaching out to parish members. He planned trainings and other events, but those were cancelled due to the COVID-19 shutdown. Still, he continued to remind parish members in the weekly bulletins and the group’s Facebook page about the organization and the upcoming relay.
An avid runner who has completed many marathons, O’Connor said there’s a difference to the A-Cross America Relay.
“I like to be about the truth; I like to think I’m about the truth and the cause of pro-life in supporting the unborn is just so self-evident and its beyond argument,” he said. “Life is so precious that we have to honor it.”
O’Connor went ahead with the run this year despite the pandemic because participants could train on their own and easily socially distance during the relay itself. He signed up for seven legs of the relay himself but had no idea how many other people to expect, he said. In the end, 10 souls braved the mid-summer heat, along with Brooke O’Connor, Scott’s wife, who drove the support van.
For the Utah run, unlike other relays, there was no baton to pass off and no welcoming crowds at the finish line. The St. Andrew’s runners began their first leg in the middle of an almost empty stretch of highway near Eagle Mountain. Each completed at least one leg. At the designated end of the relay (simply a set of coordinates), Brooke O’Connor held out some welcome cold water to the final three: Emily Janda, Renata Ryan, and Scott O’Connor, who had run more than 24 miles in the heat of the day.
“I was trying to do my prayers when it got super hot,” he said. “I was like 100 paces walking and then I’d say, ‘Thank you, Jesus’ and I’d go run for 100 paces. Then I’d say, ‘I think I can do 200 paces.’ Then I’d do 200. I was praying the rosary on my hands by counting in sets.”
It was, O’Connor said, a profound experience.
“We run to share something that can be very visible in a very simple way, that people can impact the pro-life movement and really the Catholic cause,” he said. “We have to be devout; we have to be committed to this very worthy cause. And we run to increase awareness and to be charitable towards those that are our brothers and sisters that we might never meet, that might be impacted by seeing a shirt.”
O’Connor works for a large corporation that employs thousands of people, many of whom are participating in a companywide walking program that charts their steps, hoping to win an exotic vacation.
“It struck me [during the relay] that this is 180 degrees from that, what these good people were doing out there,” he said. “People are all gangbusters and ‘Ya, I’m going to win,’ and here we are out there sweating and breaking our feet off and doing these things because we know it’s right; we know it’s the right cause. And we’re hoping we can affect someone – we don’t even need proof of it – we don’t have to win anything. We’re out there making ourselves visible, making a statement and we get nothing back but it’s more meaningful than winning a prize for something that everyone else is self-interested, going after stuff for themselves. The dichotomy of the two!”
Others who ran with O’Connor are equally committed to the cause.
“I’ve been part of the pro-life movement for about nine years so I try and participate wherever I can,” said Maricela Flores, who ran a leg of the relay with her husband, Jose. “I do things like this because it’s important to have people recognize that we are remembering the unborn and, hopefully, it will get the conversation started. As [motorists] pass by us, we’re walking, running and it’s our hope that people will see it and decide, ‘You know what – how do we feel about this? Is this important to us?’”
Other St. Andrew’s LifeRunners who participated in the relay were Autumn Anderson, Hanna Anderson, James Anderson, Ana Aragueta and Cesar Magana.
“I think it’s a beautiful cause and I just like the idea of people passing in the street being able to read our shirts, maybe even looking into the cause, opening minds,” Hanna Anderson said.
Scott O’Connor hopes that once the pandemic passes, he will be able to build up the LifeRunners chapter. and share the group’s mission in parishes across the diocese. For information, call him at 303-619-4109.