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posted: 1/1/2016 5:40 AM

Wheaton man runs 52K on 52nd birthday for clean water

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  • Steve Spear of Wheaton celebrated his 52nd birthday Thursday by running a 52K to raise money to provide water for poor African villages.

      Steve Spear of Wheaton celebrated his 52nd birthday Thursday by running a 52K to raise money to provide water for poor African villages.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • Steve Spear celebrated his 52nd birthday Thursday by running a 52K (32 miles) to raise money to provide water for poor African villages. Several friends joined him on his adventure.

      Steve Spear celebrated his 52nd birthday Thursday by running a 52K (32 miles) to raise money to provide water for poor African villages. Several friends joined him on his adventure.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

 
 

Steve Spear doesn't have a bumper sticker on his car that reads "13.1" or even "26.2." And there just don't seem to be any "3,243" bumper stickers available to reflect his accomplishment of running across the country in 2013.

But for the past five years, he's spent his birthday, New Year's Eve, reflecting on memories such as that effort and everything that's come before and after.

Thursday morning was no different, except for maybe the those who kept him company along the way.

Spear, a former St. Charles resident now living in Wheaton, is known for his efforts with World Vision to bring clean water to African villages.

His 2013 run across the United States raised nearly $500,000. He parlayed that into a role as a coach and guide for 7,000 World Vision runners at endurance fundraising events around the world.

They raised $7 million for clean water in 2015.

On Thursday, his goal was a more modest $5,200 for clean water in celebration of his 52nd birthday. Spear collected donations at his World Vision website to sponsor the 52 laps he would run around a local 1K track.

Many of his birthday runs are somewhat solitary.

Running well beyond a marathon in 20-degree weather at the crack of dawn tends to be not the most inviting start for New Year's Eve.

But this year Spear found himself in the company of one to seven runners the entire journey.

They don't all run the entire distance. And that's fine. Spear likes to reflect on each year of his life that corresponds with the lap he is on.

"In the last few laps I had some younger guys setting a bit faster pace," Spear said.

"That gave me some comfortable distance at the end to just think about the past few years," he said.

They were a mix of triumph and loss for Spear. His cross-country run helped vault World Vision into becoming the fastest growing endurance charity in the nation.

But the January after his run marked the death of his mother. His father died in January 2015.

"During the big run, my dad's 90th birthday was one of my mental motivations to really keep pushing forward," Spear said.

"I wanted to get done with plenty of time to reach Vermont to be with dad," he said.

He made it.

On Thursday, in those final few laps of his birthday run, Spear was "thinking I'd be glad when this whole thing would be over" when memories of his parents crept into his mind.

Just like in 2013, those thoughts fueled him to his goal.

By 4 p.m., Spear had completed the 32.3 miles and raised $4,300. He hoped to raise the remaining $900 before the curtain dropped on 2015.

Those who are interested can help Spear reach his goal by visiting his World Vision fundraising page at: teamworldvision.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donordrive. participant&participantID=47615

The $5,200 will bring a lifetime of clean water for 104 people in Ghana, Mali, Niger, Rwanda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Zambia.

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