An Odd Distance, a Common Problem

Easter Weekday

I’ve now been running for 40 years. What started as “plan B” to earn a  high school letter after my basketball ambitions exceeded my talent and height has become a rewarding avocation.  Over that time I’ve covered tens of thousands of miles on six continents.  In the early years—high school, college and perhaps a decade after that, I competed and trained hard.  These days (especially after aortic valve replacement surgery about 18 months ago) I feel blessed just being able to get out there in the morning, put one foot in front of the other, and enjoy the sights and sounds around me.  It’s now much more about contemplation rather than competition, though I still enjoy the occasional opportunity to participate in an occasional race like the upcoming Capuchin Run Walk for the Hungry in Milwaukee on June 16

This past Saturday (May 6) I participated in an event unlike any I’ve had in the past four decades:  the Global 6K for Water, sponsored by World Vision.  While the event was held in many towns and cities throughout the country, it also gave participants the opportunity to run the distance on their own, right from their front doors.  Due to the need to travel for some family business, the latter option worked out better for me.

In four decades of running, I had never run a 6K (3.72 miles) before.  World Vision picked that distance deliberately because that’s the average distance that children in developing countries need to walk each day just to retrieve water for their families.  With the help of a program called Map My Run I was able to create a route in downtown Milwaukee, and so just before 5 AM I left the parking lot of St. Benedict the Moor Friary and headed to the Lakefront.

As I ran along the Lake Michigan shoreline in the early morning light and looked out over the vast lake—part of a system (the Great Lakes) that contains one-fifth of all the fresh surface water in the world—I recalled how easily we in this part of the country can take water for granted.  The estimated 6 quadrillion gallons in the Great Lakes seem like they’ll always be there. 

My run took a little over half an hour—not exactly fast, but as I was cooling down I thought of the distance covered, block after city block, and the fact that many people (especially women and children) walk that distance every day just to get water. I recalled the water projects that our province has supported over the years in places like Tanzania.

I also thought of the importance of conserving water, even in places where it seems so plentiful.  It’s an act of solidarity and responsibility for a resource that’s essential for life.  When it’s not there, the results are devastating.  According to World Vision, almost 1000 children die every day from diarrhea caused by water-borne diseases and poor sanitation and hygiene practices—all because they lack access to an adequate supply of clean water.  Some have predicted that many of the wars of the future will not be fought over oil or precious minerals but over water.

The next time you turn on the tap, remember those kids and imagine walking those six kilometers…every day.—JC