Nun completes marathon on treadmill, raises over $92,000 for those in need

The idea was born after the Chicago Marathon was canceled for this year due to COVID-19. Credit: WBBM
By Marissa Parra

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    Chicago, IL (WBBM) -- A nun in West Humboldt Park is breaking stereotypes, breaking records, and raising money for rising food needs – all from her treadmill.

“I’m feeling pretty bad, but I’m doing great,” Sister Stephanie Baliga told CBS 2’s Marissa Parra.

Bad but great – that is one way of feeling after running 26.2 miles in Baliga’s shoes.

“The neighbors have been like, ‘I heard about that nun running a marathon,’ and I’m like, that’s me!” Baliga said.

Sister Baliga is used to running – she has been doing it her whole life. But with the COVID-19 pandemic, her usual marathon was a little different.

Baliga stood on a treadmill flanked by nuns in face masks, who held phones next to her to live stream over Zoom.

They came up with the idea just two weeks ago, after the Chicago Marathon was canceled for this year due to COVID-19.

But the hardest marathon of Baliga’s life on the treadmill was also the most important one.

“There’s no way I’d get on a treadmill and run a marathon for no reason,” she said.

The entire time, Baliga had the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels, or Mission OLA – at 3808 W. Iowa St. – in mind.

“She says, ‘I can raise $80,000,’” said PJ Weiland. “I came back to her and said: ‘You’re serious? You’ve got to do it big,’ and she said, ‘OK.’”

“I’m helping to run the project and I don’t want any more delays,” she said.

In West Humboldt Park, the neighborhood has been plagued by the coronavirus, unemployment, and social unrest.

“A lot of businesses in surrounding streets were looted and destroyed,” Baliga said. “We were the only real place to get food in our direct neighborhood for a wee. We’ve been serving three times as many as people as normal.”

So knowing what every dollar and every mile was fundraising for, Baliga pushed through.

“I was in a lot of pain in mile 23 and 24,” she said.

But her effort was not without a little help from surprise guests – including Olympian Deena Kastor.

“She’s my absolute childhood hero,” Baliga said. “I had posters of her on my wall, she’s my dream come true.”

And now, Baliga’s childhood hero gets to watch her break a Guinness World Record for the first female to record a marathon on a treadmill.

“Big day! Big day here on Iowa Street!” Baliga said. “We just hope that all this brings witness to Jesus and the beautiful gifts that He’s given us.”

Sister Baliga said she raised well over $92,000 for this fundraiser alone, which will mean more money for food, and coming one step closer to finishing a building under construction for the mission that will also offer housing.

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