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Meet the Chicago Nun Running a Treadmill Marathon

Sister Stephanie Baliga hopes to make up for funds that would have been raised during the canceled 2020 Chicago Marathon.

Sister Stephanie Baliga, a nun with the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels, has seen the needs of her community nearly triple since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. With anywhere from 500 to 700 families seeking provisions from their food pantry each week, the mission is processing over 120,000 pounds of food every month. 

Even before the global crisis hit, the mission was trying to raise money to finish renovations for its outreach center, which will be used for donation storage and distribution, neighborhood meeting spaces, emergency assistance, and a handicap-accessible kitchen and dining room. “We do a lot of material and spiritual outreach to our neighborhood. It’s one of the most challenged neighborhoods in Chicago as well as in the United States,” she says. 

A major push in their fundraising efforts came in the form of Team Our Lady of the Angels, co-founded by Sr. Baliga in 2011, running the Bank of America Chicago Marathon and Shamrock Shuffle 8K. Both races were canceled this year.

But Sr. Baliga still has plans to push for the last $150,000 needed to bring the project over the finish line, and it involves a finish line of her own: On Sunday, August 23, she’s going to run (and livestream) a treadmill marathon in the Mission’s basement. 

“It appears as if no woman has ever attempted to record a time for a marathon on a treadmill before,” writes Sr. Baliga on the fundraising website. She hopes to break a world record for The Book of Alternative Records as an amateur runner making this feat. All she has to do is finish in under 3:30:00. “Life is good, right, if you can find a record where no one has done it because then just finishing is the record,” she told Women’s Running over the phone. 

As a 2:53:49 marathoner and former Division I runner, Sr. Baliga feels physically confident in taking on the challenge, even though she hasn’t trained as much as she’d like. Not only has the demand been up at the Mission’s food bank, but most of the volunteer help they’d normally receive has been cut way back (and was obsolete at the beginning of the pandemic shutdown) for safety reasons. “I’ve been a little busy and so the training got minimized,” she says, “but I’m blessed that I have a very nice base and marathon background, so I should be OK.” 

She’s more worried about the mental aspect of running 26.2 miles on a treadmill. While she could run the marathon through the Humboldt Park neighborhood (the west-side Chicago community the Mission serves) she’s choosing to remain indoors to show solidarity to local senior citizens and others who have been homebound during the pandemic. “I know a lot of people have almost literally not left their house for five or six months, which is really super challenging—way more challenging than running a marathon on a treadmill,” she says. 

At the time of publication, she’s raised more than $15,000, and the team as a whole has raised over $75,000. If Team Our Lady of the Angels is able to fundraise the remaining money, they will have raised over $1 million since 2011.

The marathon will begin at 9:30 a.m. CDT on Sunday. You can follow Sr. Baliga’s progress via livestream on YouTube and Zoom. To make a donation to the Mission or find out more about its role in the community, visit the website