There is a great Catholic insight that some feats of physical endurance manifest an intense connection between the physical and the spiritual. If this asceticism is accepted for reasons beyond self-interest, it can be a means by which we share in the sufferings of Christ. These practices are directed toward the mystery of the Incarnation, the enflesh-ment of a spiritual reality that provides a corporeal, experiential means to participate in this very reality.
Jeff Grabosky, a 28 year-old graduate of the University of Notre Dame, just ran 3700+ miles across America in, about, and to promote prayer. Over the course of 121 days, Jeff made his way from Los Angeles to Long Island on foot, pushing a stroller of supplies and logging eleven to sixty-five miles every day. Having dedicated at least a decade of the rosary to every prayer petition received through his website and praying in honor of his mother who passed away in 2006, Jeff practiced this incarnational spirituality throughout his run.
Upon the completion of this feat, Jeff graciously agreed to be interviewed by Word on Fire. He offers the details of his incredible journey below:
Word on Fire: As Catholics, we often hear about the benefit of offering up our suffering, joining it with the suffering of Christ on the cross, for the intentions of the suffering Body of Christ. Tell us how you experienced this spiritual phenomenon during the more painful points of your race. Who came to mind? What made the miles pass?
Jeff Grabosky: Due to the nature of the run, there was almost always some type of pain or suffering I had to experience. I dealt with my fair share of injuries along the way, but was not in a position where I could stop for a long time to let them heal completely. It was a constant struggle, but I found a way to get through all those painful times in a number of ways. First, I knew I would likely face physical challenges on this journey, but I was running for prayer and I was certain prayer itself would help. I often thought of the sacrifice Jesus gave us by dying on the cross. It encouraged me to know that while I was in pain, I knew it was for a noble cause - and that my suffering did not compare to what Jesus had to experience. Secondly, I remembered what my Mom had to fight through when she was battling cancer and nothing I felt came close to the mental and physical anguish she had to deal with. My Mother was a great example, one which helped me continue on when I felt as though I couldn't. And finally, many of the prayer intentions that came in dealt with heartbreaking stories of pain and suffering, often of young children. This broke my heart, and again made my suffering seem minor in comparison to what they had to go through on a daily basis. I would offer up any pain for the cause I was praying for. Even though things were bad at times, by thinking of and offering up my pain for others, I was able to make it through to the end.
WOF: Have you heard from your petitioners regarding their intentions? Were there any encouraging stories of prayers being answered, even in unexpected ways?
JG: I have not heard back from too many petitioners, but a couple have sent in emails about their prayers. One wrote how a person they had requested prayers for had their cancer go into remission and another let me know about a group who received the much-needed assistance they had requested I pray for. While these types of responses were great to receive, I also really treasured all the notes I read about people who said that my story helped them to go after their goals, start praying the rosary, or simply reminded them to say a prayer. The answered prayers are truly great blessings, but encouraging the many acts of prayers is what I was really hoping to accomplish. I think making time for God in our daily lives will go a long way in making a difference in not only our own lives, but also in making a positive difference in this world. I am honored and humbled to have God use my story to help that happen.
WOF: On your website, you generously shared your personal story about the loss of your mother and the heartache that followed that life-altering event. Your mother’s influence would be the primary catalyst for you in embarking on this journey across America, and no doubt, your determination, perseverance, and success brought the story of her life to the rest of the world! Are there any quips or stories of your relationship with your mother that came to your mind on the run that you would like to share with our readers?
JG: I am so glad I was able to show that my Mom's life was a catalyst for this run of prayer. She was a great example to follow and near the end of her life, she was especially a great example of giving glory to God through suffering. I remember how she would run with a rosary ring and one time when I asked her how the run went, she said she was only able to start praying for her list of intentions and did not even get to the rosary on the run. My Mom was always so concerned with those around her and their well being that she could spend a long time just praying for those people. My run was a visual example of prayer for just a four month span of time, but that is how my Mother lived her entire life.
WOF: We were intrigued by the list of statistics that you posted upon completing the race! Can you tell us about a situation you were not prepared for, as well as the most “pleasantly surprising” moment of the journey?
JG: I tried to think of everything I could in preparation for my run, but knew I would have to adapt to and learn from situations along the way that I may not expect to encounter. Since I was on my own, when those situations arose I prayed for guidance and safety. I encountered a dangerous and strong dust storm in Texas I was not prepared for and fashioned a bandanna around my face for protection and continued to plug along through the limited visibility and 40-60+ mph winds for over sixteen miles. Another instance was when the motel I planned to stay in (over 20 miles away from the next town) was closed and as I continued on a few miles up the road, a terrible thunder and lightening storm started pouring rain down on me. Just after it began, I found a public fishing access area where I was able to set up camp for the night. There were many struggles and difficult situations, but I believe the Lord was with me every step and always provided me with just what I needed to make it through each of those trying times.
WOF: Your relationship with the Blessed Mother, already observably strong prior to this run, must have grown even deeper. Can you elaborate a bit on your relationship with Mary and offer some insight into what the cultivation of this relationship can do in the lives of our readers?
JG: This run across the country has only served to strengthen my relationship with the Blessed Mother. I really believe she has helped me through difficult situtations both on and before this run started, especially since I have turned to her more and more since my own Mother passed away. Mary has always shown such kindness and love towards people, and it is very clear how much she cares for us if you look at the promises she made to those who are faithful in praying the rosary. One of those promises is that Mary will provide special protection and the greatest graces for those who recite the rosary. I cannot express just how much I felt that protection on numerous parts of my run and how the graces I received enabled me to make it to the finish. The cultivation of my relationship with Mary through my run has enabled me to become a stronger person in my faith and has also helped me avoid sin and be more virtuous in my life. It is no question that we all face our own difficulties in our daily lives just as I did on a daily basis in my journey. I firmly believe that if I was aided on my run, then the aid we will receive on many different levels through a devotion to Mary will not only enrich our lives, but also enable them to help lead others to Christ.
WOF: People in our culture are intensely interested and impressed by feats of athletic achievement. How might your actions contribute to the Church’s efforts to evangelize the culture?
JG: I had so many great experiences along my run where people would ask me what I was doing and I was able to use that opportunity to ask them if there was anything they would like me to pray for as I ran. People were normally surprised at first, but undoubtedly would give me one or two things to pray for, if not a list of intentions. On a couple of occasions I was able to pray with, and for, them on the spot. I never would have envisioned myself reaching out to strangers in this way, but I felt I was called to do this run and I pray that I was successful getting my message of prayer out to many people in our culture. I am aware many people are interested in my story simply because of the magnitude of the physical endurance it took to run 3,700 miles across America. I pray that those who first look at my run because of the physical aspect will notice that I was successful solely because of the spiritual aspect.
Congratulations, Jeff, and thank you for the prayers and inspiration!
For more on the link between spirituality and asceticism, please see Father Barron’s video entitled “Taking the Discipline.”