Every day unbelievers and sinners cry. ‘Let us crown ourselves with roses.’ But our cry should be, 'Let us crown ourselves with roses of the Most Holy Rosary.’ --St. Louis De Montfort
Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. --1 Cor 9:24-25
While no one doubts St. Dominic prayed the mysteries while sprinting from some angry Albigensians, or St. Louis de Montfort shouted the psalter while racing away from the irate French freethinkers, running was not a typical way of reciting the rosary until recently. But since the running boom of the late '70s, running has become a popular means of exercise in our country, with many Catholics praying the rosary as they run.
Bishop Tom Paprocki (nicknamed the “Running Reverend” by Chicago reporters) started distance running in the mid-seventies as a student at Mundelein Seminary. There he would do a three-mile jog around the lake. However, his running decreased once he became a priest, until in 1994, when one of his six brothers challenged Tom to run with him in a marathon.
“Like a lot of people, I was under the false impression you had to start running 15 miles a day to enter a marathon,” Paprocki stated. Instead, he enrolled in an 18-week marathon preparation course which not only showed him how to increase his mileage safely, but covered related topics like proper rest and nutrition. Paprocki, who as bishop gives advice to everyone from Francis Cardinal George to the average parishioner, proved he took advice well, too, completing his first of many marathons in 1995. And by combining pledge-raising with his marathons, he has raised almost $100,000 for local charities along the way.
As with many Catholic marathoners, Paprocki’s mobile prayer life developed as his distance increased. “At first, running was a time to think about problems, or free my mind,” he recalled. “Later, I’d use some of the time for prayer. Finally, I figured that running was a great time to say the rosary. They both get you into a groove; running into a physical pace and the rosary into a spiritual one.”
While many are drawn to Christ through praying the rosary, Jeani Allaway is truly a soul who has literally experienced the Joyful, Sorrowful and now Glorious Mysteries in her life. A devoted mother of four, she didn’t begin running until she was in her forties, completing her first marathon in 1993. However, heartbreak came in April of 1997, as Jeani was diagnosed with a serious blockage on one side of her brain and was told she would have to undergo four, five-hour procedures and a fifteen-hour surgery. Even with all that, prognosis for a full recovery looked grim.
But if St. Paul went into spiritual battle with the armor of God (cf. Eph 6:13-17), the undaunted Jeani Allaway strode into surgery bearing the hardware of Mary. She wore a scapular around her neck, had a miraculous medal pinned to her gown and a rosary wrapped around her wrist, and held a one-inch statue of Mary during the entire operation. She came through remarkably well and was released from the hospital in a mere twelve days. As soon as she got home, Jeani went running. Meanwhile, Tom, her flabbergasted husband, decided to follow her.
But this run was different. Tom, who had been a Presbyterian the first thirty years of their marriage, saw in Jeani’s miraculous recovery and dogged determination something he did not see before. He joined RCIA that week and the following Easter was received into the Church. “I guess you could say he followed me in another way, too!” Jeani says, smiling.
“I love to pray the rosary when I run,” Jeani confided. “You can be so preoccupied with life’s worries, but when you go out to ‘run the rosary,’ they just don’t seem that important anymore.”
Multiplication is the Key
In 1982, there was little doubt Alberto Salazar was the top dog of distance runners, having not only won four marathons in a row (including the prestigious New York and Boston races), but being the US record-holder at 5,000 and 10,000 meters. His faith life, however, was a different story. “I was…the average Catholic,” Salazar told me. “I told people I had faith, but everything else was second place to running. I could usually fit in both Mass and my 20-mile runs on Sundays, but if there was a conflict, the 20-mile runs would win. Intellectually, I knew that God, my wife and child were most important, but in my heart, running was my god.”
But when a series of serious injuries kept Salazar out of the winner’s circle for twelve years, Alberto regained his Catholicism and signed on for one last race, the 53.75-mile Comrades Ultra Marathon in South Africa. While some in the press laughed at him for being too old, and many in the crowd booed him as a “brash American,” the jeers miraculously turned to cheers, when, after briefly dropping out at the 30-mile mark, Alberto resumed running, now praying the rosary out loud. “The crowd saw that I was humbled and could actually see there was a higher force working within me,” Salazar recalled “and not only did they start to cheer, many even began praying the rosary with me,” spurring Salazar on to victory in his final competition.
But perhaps Salazar’s race in 1994 points to a new rosary-running reality in 2006. As St. Alphonus Liguori states, “It is preferable to say [the rosary] with others rather than alone.” I live in a town where the local public high school has won 30-plus state cross-country championships under Coach Joe Newton, a devout Christian whose favorite movie is Chariots of Fire. Here, it is not unusual to see groups of dedicated young men and women running around town almost any hour of the day. If we could have similar groups of rosary runners chanting the mysteries as they ran their miles, there’s no telling what good they would bring to their city, their country, and the world.
So if you would like to take up this apostolate and “run” with it, start a Rosary Runners group within your school, church group or runners' club. Not only will it shape up your troupe physically, but I have the feeling that these mobile forces of the Marian army will inflict great damage on the devil’s diabolical divisions as well. As Saint Paul reminds us, “Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one” (1 Cor 9:24-25).