Run to the Horizon: Los Angeles' Annual Marathon

by Emily Shirk '10

Imagine lacing your tennis shoes as you crouch readily at the starting line, eager to vault your body forward with your best foot at the air-shattering sound of the gun blast. Your heart races uncontrollably with mere anticipation, yet your mind is more focused and calm than you ever could have imagined. After preparation through months of agonizing self-sacrifice and having defeated yourself over and over in training for your ultimate goal, you anxiously wait to reach the finish line.

On Sunday, March 4, more than 25,000 participants gathered to complete the Los Angeles Marathon. Almost 40 of those participants were students or teachers from Azusa Pacific University. Beginning in the valley at Universal Studios Hollywood and finishing a street away from the Central Library in Downtown L.A., the students set out to run 26.2 miles over the new “point-to-point” course.

“I have always had a knack for distance running, but this seemed like an experience that would still stretch me a great deal. It became a personal goal,” said Kyle Brooks, '09, describing his motivation for running the marathon.

Now imagine you are one of the 900,000 AIDS orphans located in Uganda. You are not only faced with the daily struggle to survive, but poverty and disease define your life, limiting and restraining how much knowledge you can accumulate, how much experience you can gain, and to what extent are able pursue your interests. Because of your geographical and economical background, education and college symbolize a nearly impractical and unreachable hope.

The students were no longer running for personal reasons. Alex Shute, '09, was familiar with the feeling of desperation after he was almost dismissed from college last year for financial reasons. As a determined and committed international business student, this unexpected struggle was an eye-opening experience for Shute. After overcoming huge obstacles to receive the chance to keep attending school, he desired the opportunity to “give back.”

Through his church, Shute had become familiar with Horizon International, a nonprofit Christian relief organization that functions to serve orphans affected by HIV/AIDS in Uganda, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Shute was thinking of how he could contribute to this organization and raise awareness and money for the African AIDS orphans when he saw a man at a local gas station wearing a “L.A. Marathon” hat. Shute knew it was a sign from God.

“It was random,” Shute admitted, “but it hit me as something that I really needed to do.”

With the L.A. Marathon taking place in less than a year, Shute and his close friend, Steve Snyder, '09, created an event in which college students would raise money through sponsorships to run the marathon. They began to call it “Run to the Horizon,” and used Ephesians 4:4 as their purpose statement. “We are all one body, we have the same spirit, and we have all been called to the same glorious future.”

Janel Harden, '09, who struggles with feet problems, initially wanted to participate in the marathon to prove to herself that she could run the extensive marathon despite any physical obstacles. However, when Shute told her about Run to the Horizon, Harden’s dedication doubled.

“I had even more motivation to complete the race because it became more than just a race to me,” Harden explained.

More than 25 APU students and teachers trained for the marathon regularly for over six months. They spread information about their cause through word of mouth, newsletters, and the Internet. Horizon International was so moved by the students’ efforts that they began using the Run to the Horizon logo and idea to encourage others to participate. By the time the marathon took place, the APU runners had earned more than $2000 to give to Horizon International as scholarships for orphan students to gain a higher education.

Although checks still trickled in for weeks and months after the race, the results of the marathon far exceeded any amount of money. In catching the public’s attention to an inspiring cause and completing a goal that they had ambitiously trained for, the students were overwhelmed with accomplishment and pride.

“The marathon was an amazing experience,” said Ashley Geiger,'09, who played a significant role in designing and advertising the Run to the Horizon event. “I had never been to one before, and so I was blown away at how many people were a part of it—from the runners, to the supporters, to the volunteers. There was an amazing rush of energy that accompanied the entire spectacle.”

As for Shute, reaching the end was indescribable. The finish line became a horizon, a line in the furthest distance, where everyone came together—regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, or gender—as one body and one spirit.