Katie Russell loves her heels and wedges and boots.
But for all of the Edmond mom’s girlie footwear, her favorites are her running shoes. When she laces them up and heads out the door, she finds peace and perspective.
Next week, this mother of two who struggled to get from the couch to the floor not so long ago will put on her fluorescent yellow Sauconys and run from Tulsa to Oklahoma City. She will raise awareness and funds for women and children who don’t have access to water and must walk for miles to find it. In many cases, the water they get is still contaminated. She will run 105.6 miles in four days so that the lives of moms like her will be changed.
They have to walk miles for dirty water.
She is running miles for clean water.
But for Katie Russell, these steps are also the latest in a personal journey that started four years and 90 pounds ago.
Katie was sitting on the couch the moment her life changed.
Her son, Benjamin, was playing on the floor.
“Mommy,” the 4-year-old said, “get down and play with me.”
Katie had given birth to daughter, Lexi, only two months earlier. The pregnancy added to some health problems and caused Katie’s weight to balloon. She knew that getting off the couch and onto the floor was going to take a lot of effort, so she didn’t do it. As soon as she told Benjamin no, she sensed that God was speaking to her.
“This is not really what I intended for your babies,” she felt she heard God say. “This is not really what I intended for you. So, you need to go outside and run.”
Katie immediately felt disappointed. Run? Her? That message must’ve been intended for someone else.
She had been active and athletic as a kid growing up, but running had always been punishment. Late to practice? Run a lap. Miss a shot? Run some more.
As Katie got older, married Chuck, and settled in Oklahoma, she was inspired a couple times to give running another shot.
“You see people who run a million miles, and they look so happy,” she said. “And I would try and think, ‘There’s something wrong with them.’”
But as she sat on the couch that day watching her son play on the floor without her, she knew that something had to change. She decided to give running one more shot. She went to Academy and bought running shoes, a pair of New Balance that she picked because they were the cutest ones in the store. She made a running playlist for her iPod and chocked it full of up-beat, high-energy songs.
Then, she stepped out the door for her first run. She remembers looking down her street at the stop sign. It was less than a block away, but it might as well have been a hundred miles. She knew she couldn’t run that far.
“That was an incredibly hard moment,” she said.
She leaned on her faith.
“God, we both know if I don’t make it to the stop sign, I’m done,” she prayed. “So, could you please just carry me to the stop sign.”
Katie made it to the end of the block. She went a mile that day.
It was the first of many.
Slowly but surely, the scale went down and the miles went up.
After a year or so, Katie entered a 5K, but even as she paid her entry fee, she was convinced the three-plus-mile run would be a disaster. She was sure that only skinny people and fast runners did races. They were going to trample her.
The day of the race, she sat in the car hyperventilating.
“Get out,” her husband finally told her. “Get out, and go run.”
Once she did, she realized that there were a lot of normal-looking people at the race. They weren’t all skinny. They weren’t all fast. But they loved to run.
That day, she caught the race bug. She signed up for more 5Ks, then a 10K, then a half marathon. Last fall, she ran her first full marathon.
She had lots of reasons to run. Her fitness. Her family. Her future.
A couple summers ago, she found another one.
Her son was doing vacation bible school at church, and the kids were asked to bring change to benefit Water4. It is a local charity with a global mission — provide clean water for everyone everywhere by supplying well-digging equipment. Benjamin had questions, and Katie tried to help him understand that there were places in the world where people lived differently than they did. Some didn’t have toilets. Some didn’t have running water.
That freaked Benjamin out.
“We gotta do something about this,” he said. “Mom you need to fix this.”
Katie promised that she would, but really, what could she do?
Not long after, she started a church class taught by Dick Greenly, a fellow Crossings Community member who had co-founded Water4. The first thing that he did was show a video about how millions of moms around the world don’t have clean water for their kids. How they walk an average of six kilometers a day to get water. How much of that water is contaminated. How one child dies every 21 seconds because of diseases from bad water.
When the video ended and the lights came on, Katie sat on the front row crying.
“Not like pretty-tear crying,” she said. “Ugly crying.”
She decided then and there that she wanted to raise $1,000, enough to pay for one water well in a remote part of Africa. But as she shared her fundraising efforts, a friend suggested that she run one of her races to raise money for Water4. Katie figured that she could use her steps so that other moms around the world might not have to use theirs.
Run so they don’t have to walk.
Eventually, Katie got up the nerve to talk to Greenly about her idea. Maybe she could raise money for Water4. Maybe she could even help put together a 5K to benefit the charity.
Soon, she was talking to Chris Cotner, Water4’s director of special projects. Their conversations quickly snowballed. First, Katie volunteered, then started working part-time as Water4’s marathon coordinator. She raised nearly $150,000 last year, but she also connects and coordinates runners who want to follow her lead.
For example, she is coordinating half-marathon groups at three Oklahoma City-area churches that recently started training for a race in October. All of the runners, many of them first-timers, will raise money for Water4.
For as much as Katie is doing, she felt called to do more.
“It’s kind of time to go big,” she said. “So, I’m going to run from Tulsa to Oklahoma City because that’s the obvious next step.”
She laughed and rolled her eyes.
But she wasn’t joking.
Family friends have been giving Katie’s husband a hard time these past few months.
“You should not drop your wife off in Tulsa and make her run home,” they’ll joke.
They playfully offer to come and pick up Katie and give her a ride home, but they know that she’s determined to make it from Tulsa to OKC. She will start at 6 a.m. Monday in the parking lot of the Mabee Center and finish sometime Thursday at the Love’s on NW 122nd Street. She will run mostly along Route 66 and make the 105.6-mile journey in four days.
She will run the distance of a marathon every day for four days.
She will have a support car with her all the time — it is one of the many things being provided by sponsors such as Pelco Products, Red Coyote, Fleet Feet and Schlegel — and she is encouraging anyone to come to the route and cheer or even run with her a while. People who can’t be there can still offer encouragement with her hashtag #KatieRuns4Water.
But even with all that support, it will come down to her and the road — she will have to keep putting one running shoe in front of the other.
But for this mom, running all those miles seems easy. Yes, she has trained well, but it goes beyond that. She’s tried to imagine what so many moms in Africa go through every day. She’s tried to walk a mile in their shoes, and she knows that nothing she will experience next week will come close to what they endure every day.
She hopes her steps will eliminate some of theirs.
Katie Russell realizes that she can’t fix everything with one run. That wasn’t the case when she was trying to lose weight and get healthy, and it won’t be the case next week either.
But if she reaches her goal of raising $40,000, that would pay for more than three dozen new wells and could impact thousands of lives in Ghana or Uganda or Kenya.
“That changes someone’s life expectancy,” she said. “That stops a child from dying. If we can do that for one kid, that’s worth it. But the impact that this run could potentially have … ”
She cocked an eyebrow and smiled.
“Go big, or go home.”
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.
WANT TO HELP?
Katie Russell is running four marathons in four days in an attempt to raise $40,000 to help bring clean water to remote regions of Africa. Want to support the Edmond mom’s journey from Tulsa to Oklahoma City? Go to www.water4.org/donate and click on “Katie Runs 4 Water”.