DETROIT – For someone who enjoyed a decade-long pro playing career, it seems odd that Jim Nill wasn’t much of a fan of running when it came to cardiovascular fitness.
He still isn’t.
However, Nill’s antipathy for pounding the pavement won’t stop him from following through on a promise he made four months ago, one that he plans on seeing through – straight to the finish line.
The Red Wings’ assistant general manager will make his long-distance racing debut when he tackles the Chicago Marathon next month as a tribute to his wife, Bekki, who is battling cancer.
“She’s the one that got me into it and got some of her friends into it,” Nill said. “She was doing the training but with her feet and the chemo, she just can’t. … It’s too much, so I’m running for her.”
Nill, 54, has been diligently working toward the Oct. 7 race, which starts and finishes in Grant Park. He runs three times a week, while also doing core and strength training with a group of nearly 260 other runners organized by his church in Plymouth, Mich.
Together, the training group from Northridge Church – which is part of a much larger Christian network of runners participating in the marathon – hopes to raise $500,000 in pledges to deliver humanitarian aid to communities in Africa.
Nill’s church community has teamed up with World Vision, a Washington-based Christian philanthropic organization that provides assistance to approximately 100 million people in nearly 100 impoverished nations.
“We had a bunch of people from our church go over to Zambia and they were just shocked, so broken-hearted. They have no water,” Nill said. “Kids spend all day carrying a big bucket on their heads or on their shoulders, walking 30-40 miles to get water and walking back. Because of that they can’t go to school, and without them there is no water.”
World Vision’s eight-year plan in Africa, according to Nill, is to first provide adequate drinking water by creating an infrastructure that includes new water wells and pipelines.
“We’re going over there and we’re staying,” he said. “We’re going to get the water going and once we get the water going, we’ll get the schools going, we’re going to get hospitals going.”
There are 20 different groups from Michigan and Illinois running the marathon in support of World Vision, and together they have raised more than $842,500 for its Africa campaign. As a group, Nill and his fellow church members has raised more than 64 percent of its goal.
Nill is proud to be a part of a diverse group of individuals which is pulling together for the greater good for the world, he said.
“People from all walks of life, people who are 89-years-old who have never run a marathon, some 18- and 19-year-olds who have never done it and some who have,” Nill said. “Some people can’t run the whole thing and they will walk-run it. There are people who are 80-pounds overweight and they’ve lost 70-pounds. There are so many stories within the story. It’s really been very neat.”
Nill’s hope is to finish the 26.2 mile course, even if he has crawl across the finish line. But he has found inspiration in his wife’s battle, as well as those around him who are determined to complete the race in Chicago.
“As a former athlete I like to think I have a little background, but there are some people who haven’t done this kind of thing in the past and that’s what’s inspiring me,” he said. “There are some ladies who are walking the whole thing.
“The other day they did the 20 miles, kind of walk-run, but they keep going and going. There are some people who have stress fractures and they’re walking and running. There are some people who are very passionate.
“For me, my efforts have gone very well. I’ve been very blessed.”
For more information about World Vision or to pledge the Northridge team CLICK here.
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