When the Chicago Marathon was cancelled as a result of the coronavirus pandemic Sister Stephanie Baliga (Chicago´s running nun) decided she would run it anyway. Using the treadmill in her convent´s basement she set out to run the full 26.2 miles without hitting the streets.
Baliga, who started running at the age of 9, had previously competed in track teams at the University of Illinois where she studied economics and geography. During her freshman year she reached a very high level and was achieving times that could get her to compete at a national level. Then a broken bone in her foot forced her to sit out of all training in her sophomore year. It was then she got more involved with the church and re-evaluated her life.
Her life took a turn after a strong prayer experience however and she decided to become a nun.
She never lost her love of running however. After joining the order of the Franciscans of the Eucharist of Chicago, she started the Our Lady of Angels running team. Baliga initially told her running team if the event was cancelled she’d run a treadmill marathon for charity. The money raised would go to the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels food pantry in Chicago.
Her plan was to attempt it by herself, starting at 4 in the morning. Even before the pandemic, the mission raised funds for renovations for its outreach center, used for community outreach programs.
Since 2011, Baliga and her team have raised over one million dollars for the mission through charity runs.
Her mission is feeding around 3000 to 4,000 families a month during the pandemic. It also does a lot of other things for those in need in the neighborhood.
She spoke to friends about it who told her doing a marathon on a treadmill was a crazy idea. Nevertheless if she was going to do it she should tell people to get it out there. This led to the run being live streamed on Zoom and also posted on YouTube. For the event she wore a US flag bandana and ran next to statues of the Virgin Mary and St. Francis Assisi.
Having run the Chicago Marathon for the last nine years she missed the cheering crowds of the Chicago Marathon.
However friends of hers and members of her clergy and family cheered her on via the video link. As she ran, she prayed for her supporters, for all those with the virus, and for those isolated during the COVID-19 crisis.
If she needed a final push came from a surprise video appearance from Deena Kastor, the 2004 Olympic bronze medalist, her childhood hero. Chicago´s running nun submitted her time of 3 hours and 33 minutes to the Guinness World Records and became the first ever woman to record a time for a marathon on a treadmill.