Alva Thomas: 70-Year-Old First Timer

Alva ThomasAlva Thomas is not new to running. In the Army in the 1960s, he would run 20 miles in combat boots in the Texas heat as part of physical training. When he got out of the Army, he would run down the street and people would ask what he was doing. Marathons for average joes weren’t really a thing yet, and people thought he was crazy, so he stopped running. 

Then, 45 years later, Alva was diagnosed with cancer. “I would walk home from work and repeat to myself, ‘You have cancer.’ It took a month before I told my wife,” Alva said. When he was cancer free a year later, Alva completed his first Tough Mudder “in defiance and celebration,” he said. He was 68 years old.

That event reintroduced running into his life. So when he was sitting in church one Sunday—at 70 years old—and Team World Vision invited him to run the Chicago Marathon for clean water, he said, “Why not?” 

“I’m one of those people that believes if you have the ability to do something, there is no reason you’re not to do it,” Alva said. “After cancer, people would ask me why would I run at that age? I said, ‘Why not? What’s to prevent me from doing it? There’s no reason not to.’”

And with Team World Vision, he felt even more compelled. If running and asking friends for support could make a difference in the lives of people, Alva was in. “We’re running with a purpose. We’re running for them. We’re running for water, something that we absolutely take for granted,” he said.

Now at 71, Alva is running his second and third marathons with Team World Vision this fall — Chicago, where he lives, and Detroit, where we was born. “I will run until I can’t,” he said, “I’m not trying to prove anything to anyone, but right now there is no reason not to.” 

And to anyone who thinks they are too old or too slow or too something, Alva says, “Do one thing. Start out with the smallest step. Find something that is difficult or challenging and do it. There is an overwhelming sense of accomplishment in doing that.” And of course, be willing to say, “Why not?”

Alva, thank you for saying “Why not?” to running a marathon with Team World Vision, to running a second and third marathon with Team World Vision, for raising money for kids who need clean water, for being an encourager and mentor at every single group run, and for showing us what’s possible when we put others needs before our own comfort.

Ashton Eaton and Brianne Theisen-Eaton: Beyond the medals

Ashton-BrianneThis week we have the incredible honor of inducting two Team World Vision teammates who are also Olympic medalists: Ashton Eaton and Brianne Theisen-Eaton. In the last two weeks in Rio, Brianne took the Bronze medal in the Women’s Heptathlon for Canada, and Ashton took the Gold (for the second year in a row) in the Men’s Decathlon for the United States.

The best part though is that Ashton and Brianne are not only world-class athletes, but are also incredibly dedicated and generous advocates for kids in Africa. 

The couple learned about Team World Vision through U.S. Olympian, Lopez Lomong. After running the Hood to Coast Relay with Team World Vision in 2014 and 2015, they traveled to Kenya to see the impact of the money they helped raise and to meet their sponsored child, Philemon. Even with all of the traveling they do for their sport, this trip was different. “It completely changed who we are and how we approach our life going forward,” said Brianne.

Eatons in KenyaAshton described what he saw in Kenya like this: “If you think about the foundation of competition and what makes it great, [it’s that it] is based on fairness. I’ll use the 100 Meter Dash as an example. We all have to run 100 meters, and you use your abilities and skills and potential to complete that distance as best you can.” But he said what really hit him was this: “People in Kenya have the exact same potential as someone in another situation. The difference was that the setup of the race seemed unfair.” 

It was that observation, in part, that makes Ashton and Brianne so passionate about child sponsorship and being involved in the work that World Vision is doing.

“When you’re young,” said Ashton, “You don’t really understand it. You want to accomplish all of these goals for yourself. But as you get older you realize, ‘I don’t think it’s all about me.’”  

Brianne said it this way: “World Vision has put things into perspective for us. When you’re at the Olympic level, you start to think that winning the Olympic gold medal is all that matters in your life. By going to Africa and working with World Vision and seeing the bigger picture of the world, it brings me back down to earth and makes me super fortunate to be doing what I’m doing.”

And that’s why Ashton and Brianne consider Philemon an extension of their family, and are using their incredible platform in this Olympic games to encourage other people to sponsor children as well. (Sponsor on their behalf here!)

Eatons in Kenya pt2“This is what life is about—making someone else’s life better,” said Ashton. “We have learned and experienced things that will impact our [future] kids’ lives. And because of that, their kids. And [Phil’s] family and his kids. There’s probably not much else you can do in your life that will have that significant effect on the world.” 

Now, after the games, Ashton and Brianne have big plans with Team World Vision. Ashton will be with Team World Vision this weekend for another Hood to Coast event. And in December they will host the first-ever “Legacy Getaway” with Team World Vision’s $10,000 fundraisers. They are also already planning their next trip to Kenya to visit Philemon and his family.

Ashton and Brianne, we could not be more proud to call you teammates and friends. We are inspired by your athletic pursuits, and we are motivated by your sincere and generous hearts for children in need. You are truly creating a legacy that will continue for generations, and we are so thankful for your voices on behalf of the poor. Brianne, HUGE congratulations on your Heptathlon medal. Ashton, HUGE congratulations on your back-to-back golds!