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!

The Scheer Family: All In

Scheer FamilyIn July of 2013, Cory Scheer was in a life-threatening bike accident. Miraculously, he walked out of the hospital 2 days later, but, as you might expect, his life was never the same.

That same year, Cory started on a journey of running 12 marathons in 12 months, calling it “The Basic Needs Marathon Challenge,” raising money for 5 different charities over the course of the year. His incredible story—and his commitment to helping others through the telling of it—landed him a finalist spot in a Runner’s World Cover Contest in 2014.

That’s when Cory met Rusty, a Team World Vision staff person and fellow Runner’s World finalist. Passionate about helping meet the basic needs of children through running, Team World Vision became a perfect fit for Cory. The problem was, Team World Vision didn’t have an event in Cory’s hometown of Kansas City, Missouri. So Cory, with crucial encouragement and involvement from his family, helped change that.

Cory ScheerIn 2015, Cory and his wife, Jamie, volunteered to co-captain a team from their church–Pleasant Valley Baptist Church–and run the Kansas City Marathon and Half Marathon. In the first year, they had a goal of getting 100 people from KC to run and raise $100,000. Well, as Cory said, “For us, Team World Vision has been about continual exceeding of expectations. We think we’ve accomplished something, but then God does more.” In their first year, the KC team was almost 300 runners strong and raised $210,000. 

“Jamie has been an incredible volunteer,” says Cory. She is a physical and nutritional therapist and has helped lots of her teammates as they’ve trained for the race. “This has not just been about one person, we’ve truly had a co-captain model,” said Cory.

Scheer kidsAnd they haven’t stopped there. Cory and Jamie’s kids—Cailyn (13), Isaac (11), Evan (5), and Levi (5)—have been clean water advocates as well. The kids are always at group runs cheering people on, have volunteered at the World Vision 6K for Water, and even organized fundraisers for clean water at their school. “It’s important to us that any time we can model a life of generosity, we do it. And the only way our kids can learn that is to be involved and participate,” Cory says. 

This year, the Scheers are at it again. They are key volunteer leaders in Kansas City, spreading the word about how to run for clean water with Team World Vision. There are already over 600 people signed up for the Kansas City Marathon in October (2 of which are Cory and Jamie of course). 

As Cory reflected recently on the 3-year anniversary of his accident, he wrote: “By God’s grace and His grace alone, the “tragedy” has been transformed into a new trajectory. My family’s entire frame of reference has moved further away from entitlement and more towards gratitude. Had I not gone through this experience, I may have never connected with Team World Vision, an organization mobilizing thousands of people to raise millions of dollars to end the water crisis in Africa. The work of providing clean water goes on. We each have an opportunity, by God’s grace and grace alone, to create a new trajectory for those living in tragic circumstances.”

Thank you, Scheer Family, for your incredibly generous commitment of time, resources, and influence in order to help create a better world for children in need. You ALL have played an essential role in bringing Team World Vision to a new city, and with you, we stand in awe of the work God is doing as a result of your willingness to serve. Thank you for your leadership in Kansas City and beyond. 

 

Brianna Hammond: Saying YES to the Unknown

Brianna Hammond“I was at place in my life where I needed to find a purpose outside of myself and my family,” says Brianna Hammond. “And Team World Vision clicked with me. It broke me out of being neutral. I had been living my life in a very safe space because it was comfortable. This made me become more of a risk-taker. I liked what it felt like to stand up for something that was important to me.”

That’s how Brianna, someone who had never been an athlete and didn’t know anything about the clean water crisis, describes her first LA Marathon journey. And it’s why she ran the next year. And the year after that too. It’s why she’s raised almost $30,000 personally, and why she became the captain of her church team that has raised over $250,000.

And even after all that, it’s why this year Brianna ran the 56-mile Comrades Marathon and found sponsors for 86 children. “I needed to take a big risk in my life,” she said, “I’ve never said yes to something I didn’t already know I could do. This was a place I could allow God to show his magnificence and strength in my life. I had to totally give it over to him.” 

So she did. As Brianna covered those 56 miles, she just kept putting one foot in front of the other, praying that God would not take away her pain, but help her endure it. “The children who were sponsored — they don’t get to quit,” she said, “They have to endure things no child should have to endure, no mother should have to endure.”

Brianna victoriously crossed that finish line with just 9 minutes to spare. “It was one of the best days of my life, seeing what God can do when we give him the space in our lives to do it. I had never allowed him to show up in that way.”

Ocean Hills teamNow Brianna is back in LA, ready for more. “I never want to reach my goal,” Brianna said. “If I get close to my goal, it’s going to get bumped up. What do I have to lose? There is always a need for clean water and always more that can be done.” 

She’s also excited to continue to lead her church team and encourage other people to take on big risks of their own.  “I hope there were some people sitting in the audience last year watching it all happen who have the courage to say yes this year. That’s where growth occurs the most, where we risk the most,” she said. “I love seeing the unlikely heroes that emerge because of hearts that are broken for the cause.”

Brianna, what an inspiration you are to our team! Thank you for leading so boldly and faithfully, and for being willing to take risks for the sake of others. And thank you for showing us what can happen when we allow God the space in our lives to show up in big ways. You have given hope and life to hundreds of children and we are so grateful for you.

Johgina Densmore: Creating “Aha Moments”

JohginaWhen Johgina Densmore heard about the World Vision 6K for Water in 2014, she had never run a race in her life. But when she read that the registration fee provided clean water to a child, it was a no-brainer. “I can’t even wrap my mind around the fact that there are places in the world that don’t have clean water.” So she took the plunge.

Johgina describes her very first race like this: “Crossing the finish line really was euphoric. I was 49 at the time and crossing the finish line was something I never thought I would be able to do. And the bigger impact for me was that this was really going to help somebody. I thought to myself, I’ve never done this before. But some kid has to do this every day. Some mother has to do this. So that helped me know I could get through it.” 

From that point on, Johgina talked about the 6K to all of her friends and coworkers and the next year brought a team of 15 people to the race.

While picking up their race bibs, Johgina’s friend started to cry. After the race, she told Johgina, “Thank you so much for inviting me. I didn’t even know.” And Johgina realized that one of the best parts of the 6K was seeing her friends be exposed to needs in other parts of the world. “I get to say, ‘Let me tell you what you can do to make a huge impact,’ and it becomes an aha moment for them. It’s the bib that matters.”

Johgina's Team“My personal mission statement is to help people grow,” said Johgina. “If I’m training leaders at work or at church, I talk about the value of people. So I think the same way with the 6K. It is about the value of life and the value of children.

This year Johgina took it to the next level again and invited her whole church—Apostolic Faith Church in Chicago—to participate. They are aiming for a team of 200! And all because Johgina went to her pastor and said, “If I can do it, anyone can do it. The cause is amazing—that a small registration can really make an impact on children.” 

Thank you, Johgina, for creating “aha moments” and being a passionate advocate for children in need of clean water!

If you’d like to join Johgina at the 6K for Water in Chicago this summer, register here! You can also do it in the Twin Cities or Northwest Indiana

Caleb Chung: Little Tsunami

Caleb ChungAUG 31, 2016 UPDATE: Caleb is our newest Team World Vision Legend! He has now raised over $50,000 for clean water in Africa. Welcome to the Legends Club, Caleb!


Here’s a brief overview of Caleb Chung’s Team World Vision history:

  • 2013: Ran a 1-mile race; raised $900
  • 2014: Ran a 5K; raised $3,500
  • 2015: Recruited a team of 5 friends; ran his first half marathon; raised over $45,000
  • 2016: Running another half marathon this September; $10,000 goal

Did we mention Caleb is 11 years old?

“When I was about 8, my parents started telling me about kids my age in Africa who had to walk miles to get water that wasn’t even safe to drink,” Caleb told us, “And I wanted to do something to help because it wasn’t their fault.”

At first, Caleb set up lemonade stands to raise money. But he wanted to do more. His parents were running with Team World Vision in Colorado, so Caleb asked if he could run too. He started with a 1 Mile race, but by his third year on the team, a TWV staff member proposed the idea of Caleb running the half marathon. “It seemed like a long shot,” Caleb said, “But then I started thinking about it. Kids had to walk distances as long as this for water that wasn’t even clean. So after looking at the training plan, I decided to sign up.”  

Little TsunamisBut Caleb didn’t just sign up. He also got five of his friends to run with him. “I told them the same thing that I had learned about kids that had to walk for water and they were moved too,” Caleb said. They called themselves the Little Tsunamis, and together provided clean water to over 1,100 people in Africa.

No one can say it better than Caleb himself:

On training: “I usually run after school. I just think about the kids and I imagine them at the same time that I am running, I imagine them walking for water. Even though what I am doing is hard, it’s not as hard as what they have to go through.”

On fundraising: “Most of it was just being consistent. I sent an email to everyone I knew asking for donations. I also asked in person. Once someone gave me a donation I made sure to say thank you. And every once and while I would send out a mass email with how many kids had been saved, thank everyone, and say that there were still more [kids] to be saved. My original goal was $10,000 which I thought I wouldn’t achieve. But as the donations started coming in, I kept raising my goal. I was surprised because I didn’t expect people to be this generous.”

So what’s next for Caleb? He’s currently signed up for the American Discovery Trail Half Marathon in September. “This year I’m starting at $10,000 again. My goal is to save as many kids as I can.”

Caleb, we are so honored to have you on Team World Vision, and so inspired by your incredible passion and tenacity to help kids around the world. Thank you for giving so much of yourself on behalf of kids in need. You are a world-changer. Never forget it.   

What Caleb might not tell you is that he’s less than $500 away from becoming a Team World Vision Legend! If you want to help Caleb hit an epic milestone of $50,000 raised, you can donate to his effort here.

Also, he gave an incredible speech at the 2016 World Vision Conference. You can watch it here!

Joanna Krenk: Servant Leader

Joanna Krenk

“Stop thinking. We spend way too much time thinking. So stop thinking and analyzing, be quiet, listen to God, and do what he tells you to do.”

That’s Joanna Krenk. 

As a Team World Vision runner, triathlete (soon to be Ironman), fundraiser, volunteer, team leader, and Detroit 6K site host, Joanna has put her money where her mouth is, doing what God asks her to do.

What makes Joanna so awesome is not only her individual commitment to providing clean water to kids in Africa, but also her desire to serve God through serving her team. “I feel close to God when I’m out there cheering people on or putting together an event where I know other people are going to benefit,” she said. 

It’s why when you ask her about a highlight of her experience on Team World Vision that she’ll tell you stories about other runners crossing their finish lines. It’s why she’ll humbly downplay her role in recruiting 450 people for the World Vision 6K in Detroit. It’s why she has willingly managed spreadsheets and details in the background, and has sat out a marathon season herself in order to be a volunteer leader. It’s why she talks about her team as a family that can never be too big. And it’s why the declining number of people in need of clean water is what keeps her motivated most of all.

As her teammate Billy Downs said: Joanna, your steadfast commitment to serving others is incredible. You have chosen a path of prayer, obedience, and excellence in your passion to help others soar beyond their wildest dreams! Your generosity overflows as you repeatedly put your own needs behind the needs of others around you. 

That pretty much sums it up. Thank you, Joanna.

PS: Joanna recently published a weekly Triathlon training devotional book. Check it out