Guardian Angels’ runners combine exercise, fellowship and mission

| Kateri Schmidt | September 27, 2017 | 0 Comments

From left, Tom Rasmussen, Amy Lippert and Craig Johnson of Guardian Angels in Oakdale go for a run around Colby Lake in Woodbury Sept. 25. They belong to a parish running club. Photos by Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Guardian Angels parish in Oakdale has discovered a unique way to foster relationships, promote healthy living and fight poverty: a runners club.

When Craig Johnson, a newly minted running aficionado and leader of the special planning committee at Guardian Angels, first conceived of the idea, he hoped it would help parishioners achieve their health and wellness goals in a fun, social environment. It quickly morphed into something more.

In 2015, just a few months after its founding, the club connected with World Vision, a Christian organization dedicated to eradicating poverty worldwide. Guardian Angels became the first Catholic church in the United States to join Team World Vision in its quest to provide clean drinking water to people in Africa.

From left, Craig Johnson, Amy Lippert
and Tom Rasmussen gather before a run. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

In addition to its annual fall festival walk/run and World Vision events, the GA runners club meets for 5K “fun runs” about once a month, usually at Colby Lake in Woodbury. The club has around 25 active members of all ages and walks of life, from recent college graduates to retirees. At 69, Johnson is the oldest member.

The skill level also runs the gamut, from seasoned marathoners to people who are working toward their first 5K. Around 10 of the members are dedicated World Vision runners who participate in longer races including the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon. The rest are simply there for the camaraderie and exercise.

Despite the age differences, “there’s a real cohesion within the group,” Johnson said. “One of the principles of being a member of a parish is that the broad experience which we all get is the Mass, but the way we meet and connect with individuals is through small group activities, and the runners club is one of those small group activities.”

An alpine skier, Johnson relishes the chance to exercise outdoors in Minnesota’s changing seasons. And he makes a connection between running and his Catholic faith.

Lippert laces up her running shoes. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

“Running is very spiritual,” he said. “As you’re running you’re thinking of all kinds of things that are of a spiritual nature. … It’s a microcosm of this idea of self-sacrifice.”

Co-founder Tom Rasmussen, who ran more than 30 marathons between 1996 and 2007 before a knee injury forced him to retire to shorter races, echoed these sentiments.

“When you’re out running on a familiar path, you don’t have to think about running, and what happens is your mind is liberated,” he said. “Your mind is just able to wander, and it can wander into relationships, it can wander into problems. It’s a wonderful way of just escaping.”

About the GA runners club, he adds, “It’s a spirit-filled environment” and a way to welcome a diverse group of people — especially young people — into the parish community.

One such person is Amy Lippert, who, at 29, provides a youthful presence in the club’s leadership team and has quickly become its most energetic coordinator.

More than anything else, Lippert is motivated by the mission of Team World Vision, she said. She raised $10,000 for the cause by running her first-ever Twin Cities Marathon last year.

Both she and Johnson, along with two other members of the club, will run the Twin Cities Marathon Oct. 1, followed by the New York City Marathon a month later.

Lippert’s dedication to the cause is a constant source of inspiration for her clubmates.

“I had been looking for a bigger cause to be a part of since I was 20,” she said, “and when I heard [about Team World Vision] I knew that this is what I was called to do.”

As she runs, Lippert pictures the faces of her two sponsor children and prays fervently for the mission. It is the only thing that keeps her going, she said.

“I hate running,” she said. “It takes some major mental game to get me out the door and training, so having a higher purpose to run has made it more enjoyable.”

Her fellow Twin Cities marathoner, Adam Gibson, a 34-year-old father of four whose wife encouraged him to join the GA runners club, brings it back to the benefits of running and the joy of being connected to the parish community.

“There are a lot of amazing people out there who are willing to drop everything to help you achieve your goals,” he said. “All you have to do is ask.”

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