Sister Stephanie Baliga was all set to run the Chicago Marathon, but like many big events, it was canceled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. So, she decided to do something very few, if any, people have done before. She ran the marathon on a treadmill. In her covenant's basement. All 26.2 miles of it.
Speaking with AP News, Baliga said, "I had promised my team back in April, when everyone thought the pandemic was going to be over, in like, you know, in a week, that if the race got canceled, I'd run a marathon on a treadmill. It seemed just like a cute thing to say to keep people motivated, but then they actually canceled the race.
"I had all these people join me on Zoom, so I was actually continuously sort of either talking or listening to these people on Zoom, so that was great." I can barely last a mile on a treadmill before I get bored out of my mind; I don't know how Sister Stephanie did it.
Baliga ran the marathon to help raise money for the Mission of Our Lady of the Angeles food pantry in Chicago. AP reports that the 32-year-old nun wore an American flag bandanna and ran on the treadmill next to statues of St. Francis Assisi and the Virgin Mary.
In addition to her charitable efforts, Baliga said, "One of the reasons I did the treadmill marathon was to run in solidarity with all those who've been stuck inside during COVID. This was nothing compared to what so many people have been through during this pandemic."
In the video, you can hear fans and fellow runners on Zoom cheer Baliga on the whole time. "I know it's so important, especially right now when a lot of people feel isolated and far away, that people continue to sacrifice for each other and to be kind and take the time to love others, especially, during this time," she said.
Running this marathon was a humbling experience for Baliga. She said, "It seems to have allowed people to have some encouragement and happiness and joy in this time of extreme difficulty for lots of people. I'm really humbled by the extraordinary support that so many people have shown me along this journey."
But running an entire marathon on a treadmill was not an easy feat. The last 30 minutes were pretty tough. "I was praying that I could make it and not fall off and just survive," she said. She was able to push through, though, thanks to a surprise appearance by Olympic bronze medalist, Deena Kastor, one of Baliga's heroes.
Baliga ran the entire marathon in three hours and 33 minutes, which would be an impressive time if it wasn't on a treadmill but is extra impressive because it was. Don't worry; she submitted her time to the Guinness Book of World Records for timed treadmill marathons.
"The only reason I was able to do it was because no one had ever done it before," she said. Baliga has been running since she was 9 years old.
She was a Division I runner at the University of Illinois before she became a nun. But she has never stopped running. In fact, she launched her running team in order to raise money for local causes.
And it's been great. Her treadmill marathon helped raise more than $130,000 for people in need. "All of us play this really important role," she said. "All of our actions are connected."