Running for a reason


Nine runners.

26.2 miles.

Nearly $10,000 raised for Wesley Community Centers.

A team of Savannah-area runners, several from local United Methodist Churches, recently competed in the third-annual Rock ‘n’ Roll Savannah Marathon and Half-Marathon. Dubbed “Wide Awake for Wesley,” the team ran to raise money for the inner-city Savannah ministry.

Rev. Ashley Randall, senior pastor of Garden City United Methodist Church and an avid runner, completed his third marathon.

He ran in memory and in honor of his mother, Janet Randall, who died in March.

Running for a purpose helped Rev. Randall stay focused during the long and grueling training runs.

“It really does take a lot of your spare time to train for these races,” he said. “It can consume you. For me, there has to be a greater reason than to just be out there. It has to be something I’m accomplishing. Part of it is making a contribution to others.”

His mother made a significant contribution with her life, he said, and he kept that in the forefront of his mind as he logged miles.

“She continued to remember and demonstrate in so many ways that it was so much more than just about her,” Rev. Randall said. “Her service to others was a key part of what helped her endure and persevere through the difficult times that she experienced.”

To raise his portion of the $10,000 goal set by team “Wide Awake for Wesley,” Rev. Randall reached out to family, friends, church members and his mother’s circle of friends. He was humbled by the outpouring of support and impressed by the generosity of so many.

“Their generosity has reminded me of how connected we are and how the impact of a well-lived life can continue. The way a person lives their life continues to impact people long after they’ve passed on.”

Two of Bill Briggs’ passions came together as he ran for Wesley Community Centers.

The 83-year-old member of Savannah’s White Bluff United Methodist Church quit running full marathons (26.2 miles) a few years ago, but still races in half marathons (13.1 miles).

Briggs, a member of Wesley Community Centers’ board of directors, has completed 60 marathons, more than 400 races, and run nearly 60,000 miles.

He also serves as the co-chairman of missions outreach for White Bluff UMC and has, along with his wife, served on missions teams to Honduras for the past 13 years.

Running and raising money for Wesley Community Centers was a natural fit for the mission-minded Briggs.

“It fit together like a glove for me, being an avid runner and part of the organization,” he said. “We are concerned with all types of mission activities throughout the world, and it’s good to be able to take part in something that has immediate impact here in our community. It’s just a part of what I am supposed to be doing.”

Ashlyn and Ansley Avera missed their high school state cross country meet to run the marathon for Wesley Community Centers.

The 17-year-old daughters of Stacy and Rev. Matt Avera, pastor of Pembroke United Methodist Church, Ashlyn and Ansley, who serve as youth delegates to the Annual Conference, heard about the marathon team during a pre-Annual Conference session meeting.

The two, who share a love of long-distance running and serving others, immediately jumped on the opportunity.

“We love to serve and we love to get involved, so this was a great combination of serving and running,” Ansley said. “We’ve always wanted to run a marathon. It’s been on our bucket list, so this was a great way to incorporate the two.”

They committed to the team in May and began training in June. A few weeks into their senior year cross country season at Bryan County High School in Pembroke they realized that the marathon and the cross country state championship meet were both scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 9. The marathon was in Savannah; the cross country meet was in Carrollton, nearly 300 miles away.

“Because we felt so strongly about serving and raising this money we had no hesitation in approaching our coach and telling him that we would help our team through regionals and help them get to state, but once we got to state we would have to pull out,” Ansley said. “So that’s what we did. We helped our team get to state, but because of our strong passion for wanting to raise the money and help the Wesley Community Centers in any way possible, we pulled from state to run the marathon.”

The nine runners who ran and raised money as team “Wide Awake for Wesley” are angels, said Tammy Mixon, executive director of Wesley Community Centers.

“They are friends – angels – on the battlefield to help us as we continue to provide good, quality services to women, children and families in this community,” she said. “Without the support of our friends, Wesley would not have continued to sustain itself over 64 years.”

Briggs, Rev. Randall, and Ashlyn and Ansley Avera hope that their running, their service and their lives are testimonies to how God can use people for His glory.

“This just shows you what God can accomplish in a life,” Briggs said. “The strength and desire to accomplish those things doesn’t come from me, it comes from God.”

Ashlyn and Ansley were often asked why they, the second- and third-ranked runners on their high-school team, declined to run in the state championship. They used the opportunity to share their faith and testimonies.

“We were able to say that it’s because of our faith,” Ashlyn said. “Our heart is not necessarily in running, our heart is in serving God, and we’re simply using the talents and the gifts He gave us to run to serve Him more. It was a big testimony to be able to tell people that we were doing something that was in service to God and other people. It’s where our faith is rooted and we’re called to serve.”

 Donations for team "Wide Awake for Wesley" are still being accepted. Donate online or call 912-236-4226.

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