ST. LOUIS –– When a record-breaking blizzard shut down much of western South Dakota in early October, the rough weather led to an impromptu retreat instead of a race for members of Life Runners.
"We thought it might be a little chilly," Jeff Pauls said. "No one knew how bad it was going to be."
Pauls is vice president of operations for the organization, now based in St. Louis. It is made up of people who pray, run and raise money for pregnancy help centers and build awareness about the abortion issue.
Life Runners from St. Louis and across the country planned on running the Crazy Horse Marathon and Half Marathon Oct. 6 in South Dakota, but the early blizzard pummeled that part of the state from Oct. 3 to 5, with up to 4 feet of snow.
Assessments of damage caused by the storm, which severely hit 15 counties and two American Indian reservations, could not even begin until Oct. 28. The federal shutdown Oct. 1-16 prevented the Federal Emergency Management Agency from acting to help people in the affected areas.
As for Life Runners, they have made plans to run events in their own or nearby communities in coming weeks to make up for the canceled events. Not all group members can participate in the official Life Runners events, like South Dakota, so many usually run in local races to support the aims of the organization. About 1,700 will be running in 500 different races in the weeks ahead.
Pauls told the St. Louis Review, the archdiocesan newspaper, the spontaneous retreat that replaced the South Dakota marathon events "in some ways … was exactly what people needed; to unplug and plug into God."
He was moved by how members were on fire for their faith and the culture of life.
Pauls and the group of 26 runners from St. Louis had been planning their trip for months and a detailed itinerary described by the hour what their plans were. Nowhere on the itinerary did it mention 30 inches of snow.
They left for South Dakota the evening of Oct. 3, and it slowly became more apparent that a storm would hit, but the magnitude of it was not yet clear.
They canceled a few stops on the itinerary, but still intended to visit Ellsworth Air Force Base, where Lt. Col. Pat Castle, a co-founder of Life Runners, is stationed.
When they were just outside the base, their hotel in the Black Hills, where 4 feet of snow was reported, called and told the group to find different lodging. Luckily the hotel on the base, which had already lost power, had rooms available. The bus cautiously followed a snow plow onto the base during a Oct. 4 and would not leave again until late in the morning Oct. 6.
Once the cancellation of the race events was confirmed and realizing the Life Runners would be stuck inside all day, Castle encouraged the group to not let the opportunity pass them by and to use the time to grow closer as a team and closer to God. They ended up holding a prayer session where runners shared stories of their faith journey and how they came to be LIFE Runners.
Before they headed home Oct. 6, they were able to attend Sunday Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Rapid City, S.D., where Father Joe Coffey was the celebrant.
Despite the storm, the racers were able to stay positive throughout the whole ordeal knowing that sometimes God has different plans.
"I'd do it again in a heartbeat," said Chris Talley, who spent months in training for the South Dakota trip after having been on the fence about running a marathon.
"I found something so much greater than just a marathon or a half marathon," she said.
The next three official races that the Life Runners organization has scheduled and considers its "triple crown" are: March for Life/LIFE Runners "Nellie Gray 5K," Jan. 22, 2014, in Washington; "A-cross America Relay," March 5 to April 13, 2014, covering 4,089 miles; and the 2014 Air Force 1K/5K/Half/Full Marathon at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio.
Boesch is a reporter at the St. Louis Review, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.