Contact: Craig Finnestad

Email: cfinnest@umcneb.org

Phone: (402) 895-3394

The Rev. Craig Finnestad is an experienced runner, having competed in numerous marathons over the years. He’s seen many of his friends run to raise money for various causes, and one day last year he had an epiphany of sorts.

“I thought, ‘I want to do that, but I want to do it through church,’” he said. “I’ve always had a heart for Africa and its people.”

That is how Running For Kids in Africa came to the Water’s Edge, the United Methodist Church Finnestad serves in Omaha. Though the congregation has many runners amongst its members, Finnestad still wasn’t sure what to expect one Sunday last fall when he presented the idea to form a team to run either the 2011 Lincoln full or half marathon, all in the name of raising money for kids in Africa.

“I was thinking we may have a couple of dozen runners sign up,” said Finnestad. “We ended up having almost 80 say they were on board; that totally exceeded all of my expectations.”

Almost 80 percent of those who are participating have never before run a half marathon (13.1 miles) or marathon (26.2 miles). Most of them are doing the half; Finnestad is among those who will be running the full.

They’re doing their fundraising through Team World Vision, a program of World Vision that enables athletes to raise awareness and funds for communities in need through their athletic events. The program provides each runner with a fundraising page; some runners have raised more than $1,000. The race is May 1; the team has currently raised nearly $15,000 of their $20,000 goal.

“I believe we’re going to meet our goal,” said Finnestad, “I’m very optimistic.”

There will be an opportunity at the Water’s Edge in April for non-participants to donate or sponsor a runner and/or child in Africa.

While raising money for and awareness of hurting kids in Africa is the primary reason for running, Finnestad had additional goals for wanting to implement a running ministry, including to encourage healthy lifestyles, build friendships and help people accomplish a dream. He says it’s worked on all counts.

“The participants have lost hundreds of pounds (combined), are getting to know each other and are chasing down a dream,” he commented.

Husband and wife Justin and Jennie Clements will both be running their first half marathons.

“We went to Lincoln last year to watch the marathon and were inspired to do a half-marathon someday,” Jennie said, “Little did we know that our ‘someday’ would be sooner than later.”

She continued, “When Pastor Craig presented the idea at church about starting a running group, we were ecstatic and jumped on board right away. It’s an added bonus that we get to do this with people from church and raise money for children in Africa in the process!”

The team gathers every Saturday at Lake Zorinsky in Omaha to go on a long run. Team World Vision offers a training schedule for both the half and full marathon. Finnestad also assembled a team of mentors and experts, including a dietician and physical therapist, to help the runners meet their goals.

Renee Eardensohn is one of the participants serving as a mentor to some of the first-time half-marathon runners.

“I was so excited to be asked to be a mentor, because I’ve had people serve as one for me over the years, and I know how much it helped” Eardensohn said. “It’s so fun to see them accomplish their goals and inspiring to see their excitement when they run farther than they ever thought they could.”

While Eardensohn has run many races over the years — this year’s Lincoln Marathon will be her 20th race of that distance — she said running for a cause definitely feels different than just running a “normal” race.

“Running for those kids in Africa gives it a meaning and a purpose beyond just yourself,” she said. “You’re not running for the fun or accomplishment of it, and it’s not just about crossing the finish line, you think about those kids while you’re running, and it strengthens you to know that somebody’s going to benefit.”

Or as it states on the team’s website, “We aren’t running for medals. We are running for hope.”

To find out how you can start a team through World Vision, visit the Team World Vision website, www.teamworldvision.org. For more information on Team World Vision at the Water’s Edge, or to make a donation, visit www.runningforkidsinafrica.com.