After competing in the Chicago Marathon, Oct. 12, seminarian Robert Spoerl, center, poses with friends, Stephen Juma, also a college seminarian for Milwaukee, Monica Moran, Laura Buttitta and Christine Nashashibi. (Submitted photo coutesy Robert Spoerl)
Seminarian heeds St. Paul's advice in running marathon
Robert Spoerl competes in Chicago event for a charitable purpose
By Karen Mahoney
Special to your Catholic Herald
CHICAGO - College seminarian Robert Spoerl offered some "divine perspiration" recently when he ran the Chicago Marathon.
The 20-year-old New Berlin resident and member of Mary Queen of Heaven Parish, West Allis, normally spends his time racing around St. Joseph Seminary on the campus of Loyola University juggling a hefty class load.
As if discerning the priesthood and attending college classes weren't enough, Spoerl wanted the additional challenge of competing in the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 12 and did it to benefit the American Red Cross. With the assistance of a Web site www.firstgiving.com/bobspoerl more than $1,000 was donated on behalf of Spoerl's efforts.
"I ran for Team Red, the Red Cross race team - it was only fitting since I have flaming red hair!" he said. "It was great to be raising money for an organization dedicated to helping hurricane and flood victims - including the several natural disasters that severely affected the lives of many of our brothers and sisters in the gulf and some of our neighbors in the Illinois area. Seven counties were deemed disaster areas after late summer floods in the Midwest."
To train for the 26.2 mile race - which took Spoerl three hours, 42 minutes and 55 seconds - he ran in the Lake Geneva Half Marathon last May.
"My friend Dave, a fellow college seminarian from Milwaukee, and I ran plenty in March and April and then ran the half marathon," he said. "This was like two days before I went on a trip to El Salvador, so I knew I would have a nice long plane ride to rest sore legs."
Training throughout the summer, Spoerl's jaunts carried him along the east side of Milwaukee, around Sherman Park and up and down Capitol Drive near All Saints, the parish where he worked during the summer.
"As I returned to St. Joe's, I used a program in Runner's World magazine that was designed to help those training for a full-length marathon," he said. "It wasn't an easy program; it required running five times a week, including one, two-to-three-hour run per week, sprint workouts, and various timed workouts. After sweat, aches, minor pains, but a lot of support from family and friends, I felt ready to run the Chicago Marathon."
In addition to running the race for health reasons - Spoerl described himself as a former chubby kid before running cross-country as a senior in high school - he finds joy, peace and unexplained calmness each time his soles hit the pavement.
"It is similar to when I connect with the Spirit in the form of playing or listening to music," he admitted. "There is something about certain things you do that just feel right. I may risk sounding like I am exaggerating, but there seems to be something divine about a long, free spirited run. There is a runner's high that serenades the soul with its bliss."
Accompanied by his iPod, Spoerl often notices that songs speak to his heart, catapulting his spirit to a place that allows him to push forward and win his personal race.
"The path toward that finish line is what really makes the run worthwhile," he said. "'Do not run aimlessly,' Paul tells us in his letter to the Corinthians. He creates this scene of runners running into a stadium, running the race. He says many run, but only one claims the prize. Maybe we are all running following God, following the life of Christ. He has the prize that all of us wins with running in love with others. Our world community can run together, running to the pace of peace if we all believe that it is love that will pull us through this life and help us to solve the problems in this world."
Philosophically, Spoerl runs with ease; physically, he draws his strength to complete the marathon by thinking of the ones who have touched and who continue to touch his life. People such as his parents, Anne and Rick; the individuals who sponsored his run, those who suffer with health concerns, good friends and others who have crossed his path carried him to the finish line.
"I thought of my brother, my friends at Loyola," he said. "I thought how awesome it was to see such a large number of people cheering me on. In the moment, that crowd pushed me ahead."
While he credits the carb-loaded bananas after mile 20, the Gatorade and the water for the physical endurance to continue, he is quick to acknowledge it was primarily the personal support as well as the camaraderie from fellow runners.
"I met a woman from the San Diego area while running. We chatted for a little - the talk really helped because it came at a time when one of my legs was starting to feel a little funny - not ha ha funny, it was hurting," he said. "But every time I would get a cramp or something I would say a little prayer in the form of thinking of people, places or events that led me to the moment I was at. The belief that I could finish with a little help from my friends, from faith, helped me cross that finish line."
If his body cooperates, Spoerl anticipates running the Chicago Marathon next year, as well as one in Fargo, N.D. and a few others. He also keeps a running marathon of sorts on his blog site http://networkoflove.blogspot.com as a personal reflection of his journey through life and discernment for the priesthood.
"I find writing to be a form of prayer for myself," he said. "It is one of the most real, tangible ways I can connect with other people and show them what I am really thinking. It is fun to write; I enjoy the practice and hope to show the light of life to others. In that way, being optimistic but realistic, maybe I can show people the message of love Christ walks in the Gospels."