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 Classic Team World Vision Jersey

#ClassicTWVClassic Team World Vision Jersey: today we induct you into the Team World Vision Hall of Awesome in appreciation of your epic career. In the past 10 years, more than 25,000 people have pushed through boundaries and changed lives wearing your unmistakable orange.

You’ve boldly run on city streets and rural roads, oceanfront and forest paths, flatlands and mountains.

You’ve offered courage to your wearers to cover distances they didn’t think possible—6K, 13.1, 26.2, 87K, 70.3, 100, 140.6, 195, 3081.

You’ve been an armor of strength from coast to coast, through the hills of South Africa, and up to mountain summits. 

You’ve withstood sweat (lots and lots of sweat), blood, tears, rain, snow, and sun. 

You’ve been there for every training day, injury, comeback, and runmotional finish.

You remind each person who pulls you on that they are part of something bigger, that they are not alone.

And most of all, you are a beacon of hope signaling clean water and life to communities worldwide.

Classic Team World Vision Jersey, you have done your job well. Steady and relentless, always present, but never stealing the spotlight. If we could only know the stories of the thousands of life-changing journeys you have silently witnessed. Thank you for your service to Team World Vision. Though it is time to say farewell, you will never be forgotten.

Stay tuned for the upcoming reveal of the NEW Team World Vision jersey later this summer! We think you’re going to love it, and spoiler alert: it’s still orange.

Get your #ClassicTWV jersey through June 30 when it will be officially retired. ORDER NOW.

What’s your #ClassicTWV moment? Share it on Facebook and see your teammates’ memories by searching the #ClassicTWV hashtag.

Amber Walker: 56 miles for 56 lives

Amber WalkerAmber Walker has been dreaming about running the Comrades Marathon (a 56-mile ultra marathon through the hills of South Africa) for four years. After reading about the epic race in a magazine, she knew she wanted to try it even though it seemed out of reach.

But next week, Amber’s dream will come true.“When I found out that Team World Vision had a team, I pretty much jumped up and down,” she said. She’s trained for months, fought through injury, and imagined what it will be like to finally be there. Now it’s time. 

Amber has been running with Team World Vision for seven years in Seattle. “It feels like what I’m supposed to do. God just places things on your heart. I don’t really know why, but I know I’m supposed to keep running.”

But the race is just part of Amber’s story.

Amber has a World Vision sponsored child named Matolase. “She’s close to my own daughter’s age so I always wonder what she’s learning or how she’s doing. I know all of the dangers that she is exposed to and I just can’t help thinking, what if it was my own daughter? I would want someone to help.

And that’s why Amber is looking for sponsors for 56 kids – one for each mile of the 56-mile race. “When I started this I didn’t even think I knew 56 people,” Amber said, who is admittedly quiet and happy to spend time in smaller social circles. 

But Amber is not one to give up on a challenge, especially one so close to her heart. After countless bold asks, Amber has found sponsors for 54 children! That’s 54 children who will now have access to things like clean water, food, education and a future. She’s looking for 2 more sponsors* to reach her goal before she boards her flight, but of course more would be even better, she said.

Amber, you are a force to be reckoned with! Let the children who you serve give you hope and courage as you face those South African hills. Thank you for so boldly advocating on behalf of these kids. We’ll be cheering for you out there!

*Want to help Amber reach her goal? Email teamworldvision@worldvision.org and let us know!

Russ Funk: Reshuffling his cards

Russ FunkRuss Funk was scheduled to have knee replacement surgery in September of 2010. It was a hard reality to face having been an athlete in high school and college. But after 25 years of arthritis developing in his knees, he couldn’t escape it. His knees were in constant pain.

So it came as a shock when Russ announced to his family that he would be running a half marathon with Team World Vision that year. (You might already know that you can’t run on knee replacements.)

Russ had rescheduled his knee surgery in order to run the race instead. He couldn’t sit without aching and moaning, he hadn’t run a step in 25 years, and the race was 12 weeks away. Never mind that just a month earlier when asked how many races he had run, he had humbly replied, “None. Running is not in the cards for me.

But when he had asked his doctor about running the half marathon, the doctor told him, “Your knees are already shot, so if you can stand the pain, you might as well completely break them.” So Russ decided to reshuffle his cards.

He indeed ran that half marathon in 2010, and since then has completed 20 half marathons, 2 full marathons, and 7 triathlons (including a Half Ironman) on behalf of kids in Africa. He’s been a team captain in Phoenix, encouraged team members across their finish lines, and traveled to Africa with his wife, Pam, to meet their sponsored child in Kenya.

And on March 19, 2016, Russ ran the World Vision Global 6K for Water in his hometown of Phoenix. After 5 years of defying the odds, Russ celebrated his last running event with 8,000 of his closest friends across the country. Just 10 days later, Russ finally had that knee replacement. 

But that won’t stop him from doing whatever he can to help provide clean water to communities in Africa. At the Global 6K, Russ talked about taking on the Legacy challenge this year and what events he could do to help him raise $10,000. He’s already signed up for a triathlon relay with his sons (he’ll do the swimming and biking portions), and is looking into cycling events for once he has recovered from surgery.  

Russ, for five years you’ve endured relentless pain for the sake of others. You’ve literally broken your knees to care for children around the world. You’ve run for water, hope, and life. You are an inspiration to all who know you and we’re so thankful to have you on the team. Here’s to many more races!

Judi Tschappat: “Where can you use me?”

Judi TschappatJudi ran the Chicago Marathon with Team World Vision in 2012. And although she wanted to run again the following season, a knee injury prevented her from signing up. That’s exactly when she approached her team captain and said, “I want to help with the team. Where can you use me?”

Judi became the group run volunteer coordinator and cheer team leader extraordinaire for the group run site in Algonquin, Illinois. Even now, three years later, Judi is still at the running site every Saturday at 6 AM with her two young girls, Maggie and Emma, cheering on her teammates.

Every person at that group run has been touched by having Judi and the girls out on the trail and the race course, leading cheer squads for when the going gets the toughest.

In her words: “All I really do is show up. God created me kinda ‘over the top’ with the gift of encouragement, so He simply put Team World Vision in front of me so He could use the gift He gave me.”

Thank you, Judi, for serving your team so selflessly.