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Former Willow Creek Church pastor runs coast to coast for clean water

Steve Spear, a former pastor at South Barrington’s Willow Creek Community Church, has run 2,200 miles since April for his Running for Water mission. | Photo submitted
"The idea is a 3,000-mile run across the U.S. to put in long-term, sustainable water solutions to villages in the western part of Kenya," said Steve Spear, former pastor at Willow Creek Church. | Photo submitted
Steve Spear, former pastor at Willow Creek Church, ran from L.A. to Chicago mostly on Route 66 and is expecting to reach New York by Sept. 7. | Photo submitted

After running his first marathon in 2007 to raise money for clean water in Africa, Steve Spear decided he wanted to take the cause 3,000 miles farther.

The St. Charles resident, who was a pastor at South Barrington’s Willow Creek Community Church for 16 years, recently joined Team World Vision and embarked on his own transcontinental marathon. He has already run 2,200 miles since April for his Running for Water mission.

Spear explained that he was moved to complete the 3,000-mile trip from ocean to ocean after visiting Kenya and seeing the plight of children who don’t have access to clean, safe water.

The Running for Water cause has Spear running marathon lengths nearly every day for five months. He is on pace to reach New York on Sept. 7.

Q: What is the goal of Running for Water?

A: The idea is a 3,000-mile run across the U.S. to put in long-term, sustainable water solutions to villages in the western part of Kenya.

Q: Is it just you or are you part of a group?

A: It’s just me doing the run. We’ve got a crew but it’s just me who’s running across the U.S.

Q: Have there been many multi-marathons like this in the past?

A: There have been others in U.S. history but very few. We’re not aware of anyone who’s done a transcontinental run for water, so it’s unique in that way.

Q: What is World Vision?

A: World Vision is one of the largest, private humanitarian organizations in the world.

Q: What exactly are they doing to bring water systems to western Kenya?

A: They have Kenyan engineers figure out what the best water solutions would be and World Vision has them installed. It’s a whole combination of water systems built to bring water to everyone in the area.

Q: When did you start the run and how far have you gotten?

A: I’ve run to Chicago from the Pacific Ocean starting April 8. I’ve run 2,200 miles so far, which is two-thirds of the run.

Q: How do you figure out which route to take?

A: I followed for the most part Route 66 that runs from L.A. to Chicago. Then we looked at what’s the best way to get from Chicago to New York.

Q: What is it like to run 2,200 miles?

A: It’s everything on both extremes. There are extreme highs like pushing the limits of discipline and then there’s also the lows of extreme physical exhaustion. I’ve run in the mountains, the desert, through a 60 mph wind sandstorm, 110 degree heat indexes in the Midwest and through rain storms.

Q: What do you plan on doing once you get to New York?

A: Just celebrating and resting. We still have a lot of money to raise.

Q: How much would you like to raise and how much have you raised so far?

A: The goal is to raise $1.5 million. We’ve raised $200,000 so far.

Q: What do you do to raise money?

A: Most funds come through our website. Almost every Sunday, I speak at a church on the run route. We also have a lot of people doing different things on our behalf. Some high school kids in Missouri sold flowers at a school dance and raised $5,000.

Q: How did you come up with the idea to run for water in Africa?

A: I only began running about 7 years ago. I ran my first marathon to raise money for clean water in Africa. I really never thought I’d run another marathon again, but one turned into two and three. I thought why not raise a whole lot more with a bigger run?

Q: Why did you choose western Kenya?

A: I was aware of World Vision’s work in Kenya. We sort of identified Kenya as an area where a lot of good work is done. Also there’s hundreds of thousands of people who live in western Kenya. It’s a very large population.

Q: Have you ever been to Kenya?

A: I was there just before I started the run and saw many of the solutions they were using.

Q: Are you planning any similar runs in the future?

A: This is probably a one-time thing.

Q: How did you recruit people to accompany you as part of the crew?

A: Everyone who is doing this is a volunteer. There is no paid staff. We just talked to different friends and people we were close to and we started assembling them and bringing them on the team. Most people come out and travel, but not for the whole trip.

Q: How far do you run on a typical day?

A: Basically, I run 35 miles a day, so I stop when I hit 35 miles. We have RVs that were donated so we use those instead of staying at hotels.

Q: What has been your favorite part?

A: Probably meeting people and hearing their stories and watching them get excited about supporting the cause. Also, seeing the beauty of our country.

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