ST. CHARLES – To say St. Charles resident Steve Spear is doing a lot of running these days is an understatement.
Spear will mark his 49th birthday Dec. 31 by running 130 miles that week. He is in training for an even bigger run. In April, he will embark on a 3,200-mile run across the country to raise $1.5 million to build a clean water and sanitation system for 30,000 people in Kenya.
“It’s more of a litmus test,” Spear said. “Who knows what we’ll will encounter and my body will encounter. But at least we are trying to do everything we can to properly train and get a proper gauge without overusing my body in the training.”
Spear is running as part of Team World Vision, which is one of the fundraising programs for World Vision. He is a volunteer running ambassador. Spear is devoting all of his time to training and fundraising for the “Running for Water” project, which will take him coast to coast, from Los Angeles to New York.
He gave up his post as pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in West Chicago, where he had been for 16 years.
“It became evident that this was going to be a step of faith to go into this unknown territory,” Spear said.
That alone impresses Michael Chitwood, national director for Team World Vision.
“He’s very passionate,” Chitwood said. “There’s only a handful of people who have run across the U.S.”
The two ran together in 2010 as part of the world-renowned Comrades 56-mile Ultra Marathon in South Africa. Chitwood asked Spear to be part of the race.
“That involved running through 10,000 feet of hills in South Africa,” Chitwood said.
He is convinced Spear will complete the 3,200-mile run and meet his fundraising goal. Chitwood said he plans to run with Spear as much as he can.
“He’s going to make it across the country in one piece,” Chitwood said.
That’s been the case so far as Spear continues to train for the race.
“For the most part, my training has gone quite well,” Spear said. “I’ve staved off injury so far, and I’m planning and trusting that to continue.”
Spear first came up with the idea to run across the country while he was on a 15-mile run in Ohio.
“I got the idea that I was supposed to run across America for the good of others,” Spear said.
The idea scared him initially.
“I thought, ‘That’s the craziest, nuttiest thought a person could ever have,’ “ Spear said. “It freaked me out so much. I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t tell my wife.”
But Spear said he became committed to the project, especially after a recent visit to Kenya.
“It was mainly for me to get more educated on the plight of people that don’t have access to clean water, and to see the varied water solutions that World Vision brings to communities,” Spear said.
He saw children who walked miles for water that wasn’t clean.
“The average distance that a woman or girl travels is seven to nine miles,” Spear said. “When I got back from Kenya, I poured a glass of water, and then I figured how much water I use on a daily basis. I use 95 gallons of water a day, and I don’t even have to walk a yard to get it.”
Spear is trying to train for everything he might encounter on his run, including steep hills. He runs up and down the hill outside his St. Charles home to get used to the rugged conditions he will face.
“I’ll just go up and down this thing 10 or 20 times to get used to inclines,” Spear said.
Spear is not a runner by nature. He ran his first Chicago Marathon in 2007 for Team World Vision.
“I thought when I ran that first marathon, I was one and done,” he said.
During the actual run, Spear plans to run 35 miles a day, five days a week. He hopes to finish the run by the end of August.
“We’re holding that loosely,” Spear said. “I’m pretty motivated to finish under five months. We’ve upset our lives quite a bit to be on the road. We’ll be living basically out of an RV for five months.”
Family members, including his wife, Frances, and their children, will accompany Spear on the trip.
“My wife is incredibly supportive of this whole initiative,” Spear said. “She’s the true hero in all of this. She wants to be right there with the whole thing. She doesn’t want to hear about the experience, she wants to live it.”
This isn’t the first time Spear has traveled across the country.
“When I was 8 years old, I lived in Vermont, and we had a pop-up camper,” he said. “My family and another family drove for 40 days around the perimeter of the United States. We went to 28 states.”
The experience was breathtaking, he said.
“We saw the country in an unbelievable way,” Spear said. “I tell my parents that was first big trip around the United States when I was 8 years old, and now I’m taking my second big trip.”
Spear admitted that it’s going to feel strange when he finishes the run.
“We’re obviously going to spend a couple of months after the run is over going back and thanking people that helped us accomplish this vision,” Spear said.
And he plans to make a trip back to Kenya in October.
“I’m hopeful to go back and just go, ‘All right guys, we did it. We got the job done,’ ‘’ Spear said.