Jake Walter is just one of many Americans who will be on the road this month, hoping to travel and see the country under the glow of a bright summer sun. Unlike most travelers, however, Walter did not begin his trip by getting into a car, truck, plane, train or even a boat.
Instead, Walter simply jogged down the steps of Auburn City Hall and ran down South Street. He planned to spend most of July on the run — literally — as he and the four other men on his relay team run the 1,085 miles from Auburn to Atlanta, Ga.
Walter helped organize this first-annual Brian’s Invitational relay in memory of fellow Auburn native Brian Bisgrove, his friend and business partner. Bisgrove suffered from a rare form of sinus cancer and died in February 1998 at the age of 22, shortly after he founded the ConQuest and Challenge leadership programs for Catholic boys and girls, said Walter, who belongs to Holy Family Parish in Auburn.
Each member of the five-man relay team will run 10 miles a day. The team hopes to raise $250,000 through Brian’s Invitational. Proceeds from the relay will be given to the ConQuest and Challenge programs and to the American Cancer Society, Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo and Golisano Children’s Hospital in Syracuse, which is currently under construction and is expected to be completed in 2009, Walter said.
Relay participants sought per-mile or flat-rate sponsorships for their run, and many of the boys and girls in the ConQuest and Challenge programs also went door-to-door asking for donations for the runners. The teammates will continue to collect money until mid-October, and they will present the donations to the beneficiary organizations on Oct. 22, which was Bisgrove’s birthday, Walter said.
“It kind of reflects the way Brian was,” Walter said. “Everything he wanted to do, he wanted to do big, and it was always for Christ. I know this was the way to do it for him.”
Walter met Bisgrove in 1997 at a picnic at St. Isaac Jogues Chapel in Fleming.
“I sat down next to Brian and I just said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to mix faith with sports?'” Walter said, recalling that Bisgrove smiled at his remark. “I didn’t know he had this idea of building kids up through their faith in a very active way.”
By that time, Bisgrove had already formed ConQuest and Challenge clubs in Auburn. A few months later, he called Walter from his hospital bed at Roswell Park Cancer Institute and asked Walter to help him expand his clubs past the Auburn area.
“How could I say no?” Walter said.
After Bisgrove passed away, his father asked Walter to continue Bisgrove’s work with the youth clubs, Walter said.
“I’ve been doing this full time ever since,” said Walter, who is now one of the organization’s regional directors.
ConQuest clubs for boys and Challenge clubs for girls are sponsored by Regnum Christi, an apostolic Catholic movement associated with the Legionaries of Christ. Through these clubs, boys and girls between the ages of 5 and 16 participate in sports and service activities that help them become disciplined and self-confident young leaders with moral integrity who are committed to improving their communities, Walter said.
“We instill the virtues and leadership skills that young Catholics need in order to support their church and give back to the community. We focus very strictly on helping the parish and building up the community,” he said.
Although ConQuest and Challenge clubs are still relatively new, there are now 500 clubs and more than 8,000 members throughout the United States, Walter said. In Auburn, St. Francis of Assisi Parish hosts a Challenge club, and Champions for Life Sports Center hosts a ConQuest club.
Walter and his teammates left Auburn at 9 a.m. July 1 and ran to Syracuse, where they met with representatives from Golisano Children’s Hospital and collected names of people to pray for as they run. They ran back to Auburn that night and left the city again July 2, this time heading west.
The team followed Route 20 and had made it to Geneva by early afternoon, Walter told the Catholic Courier during an interview via cell phone.
“It’s going well, and we’re right on schedule. We’re 17 miles away from Canandaigua right now,” he said.
The team reached Lima before retiring for the night, then drove back to Canandaigua the next morning for Mass at St. Mary Parish before returning to Lima to start the next leg of the journey.
“We started with Mass at St. Mary’s in Canandaigua, NY with Father Tom Mull presiding,” Walter wrote in an online journal at www.briansinvitationalrelay.org. “He had us stand up during Mass and explain what we were doing. We then received a blessing and a donation from Father Tom.”
“We headed out for the road about 10:15 and finished at 6:15. The boys are tired but are in good spirits,” he wrote in the journal. “We pray a decade of the rosary each time a runner gets out to run until we have completed the rosary for the day.”
Relay-team members are planning to reach Atlanta July 23, where they will use the torch they’ve been carrying to light the fire for the start of the International Friendship Games, which are sponsored by Regnum Christi. Hundreds of young athletes, including many ConQuest and Challenge members, will participate in basketball, soccer, volleyball and swimming competitions during these games.