The speedster sister was not going to let a pandemic stop her from running her marathon!
Sister Stephanie Baliga is a religious of the Franciscans of the Eucharist of Chicago with a passion for helping others — and for running. Underneath her habit is an athlete who has not only notched up a number of marathons — including a personal best of 2 hours, 53 minutes — but has also raised impressive funds for charity.
Graduating from Illinois university in 2010, she promptly joined the Franciscan order, but she didn’t abandon her God-given talents. She found a way to marry her passion for running with her desire to serve God by running a marathon and raising money every year thereafter.
This year Baliga was intent on continuing her fundraising efforts. In fact she was so convinced she’d be running the Chicago marathon this coming October that she made a vow to her running mates, as she explained to the Chicago Tribune:
“In April, I was trying to motivate people to train and fundraise: ‘We’re still going to do this.’ I made a promise: I’m so sure this race isn’t going to get canceled that if it gets canceled I’m going to run this race on a treadmill. It got canceled, so I’m running it.”
In the style of a true religious, Sister Baliga decided to honor her vow while also hoping to set a new Guinness World Record and become the first female amateur runner — and undoubtedly the first Franciscan sister! — to complete a full treadmill marathon of 26.2 miles
So last Sunday she took to the treadmill with the support of other members of her convent, official timekeepers, friends, the faithful and athletes offering encouragement via Zoom, and, in true Catholic style, two little statues of St. Francis and the Blessed Virgin just behind her.
The whole effort was livestreamed and posted on social media. And while you might not wish to watch the full 4-plus hour video (the actual marathon time is about 3 hours, 35 minutes), it’s definitely worth dipping into to witness the resilience and determination of Baliga — as well as the wonderful commentary offered by people popping in and out of Zoom.
The initial aim of the sister was to raise $150,000 for the Mission of Our Lady of Angels’ community outreach program, which has seen demands for aid, especially its food pantry, rise threefold since COVID-19. Donations have actually reached $100,000, but there’s still a possibility to donate using this page.
The money will be used to keep the pantry, which serves 3,000 people in need, fully stocked, and to help finish a three-story renovation project opposite the convent that helps to provide emergency assistance, food and clothing, after-school programs and community meals.
While Baliga shared before the race how she felt blessed to be able to run marathons and is grateful to those who have given food to replenish the pantry, there’s something deeply impressive about the religious, who actually suffered a foot injury during her sophomore year that impacted her running prospects: she will not let a pandemic or an injury stop her from completing her mission.
A friend and volunteer at the pantry shared her thoughts of Baliga: “She’s fearless. She’s confident and humble. She’s confident God has her back and she’ll be taken care of. Nothing intimidates her. She’ll just say, ‘OK, let’s figure out a way to gut the floor. God will provide. Let’s do this.’ She’s small but mighty. All the sisters there are. They’re doers and get stuff done.”
With the marathon over and donations continuing to pour in, Sister Baliga can hang up her running shoes for another year and be content that not only has she helped those in need, she’s inspired others to do the same.