Running the good race together

Following our friend Kelly along the Boston Marathon route on April 18 via the Internet. (Screenshot by Julie Vieira)

Global Sisters Report has enjoyed a partnership with A Nun’s Life Ministry since our site went live in April 2014. Srs. Maxine Kollasch and Julie Vieira share audio clips every week from their popular podcasts and now take turns writing a monthly column. Drawing on their experiences of online presence and using a lens of Scripture, they each will explore how social media offers new ways of witnessing Gospel values.

______

While at work the other week, I took a break to run the Boston Marathon with a friend, Kelly. I managed to get through the entire event without spilling my coffee or breaking a sweat.

To be clear, I did not physically run the marathon with Kelly. I was actually 756 miles away, in the office with the A Nun's Life team in Ohio on April 18 when the race was going on. We tuned in to the marathon via the Internet because we wanted to be present with Kelly as she ran the 26.2-mile event. The technology used in the marathon enabled us to do this, and the experience gave us a new perspective on what it means to be present to others in the 21st century.

The technology worked like this: Before the race, marathoners receive a number that they attach to their clothing and wear throughout the race. The number comes with a tag that uses a chip to send out signals. The signals are detected electronically throughout the course and provide data about the individual wearing the number, and the data is displayed on a website.

The website shows a map of the entire marathon course. On the map, Kelly was represented by an avatar of a runner, with arms and legs in motion as she advanced along the course. The data from her tag showed where she was on the course at any given moment, how fast she was running, and whether she was running faster or slower than in previous miles. We kept an eye on the weather and were happy to see it shift from hot sun to cooler, more comfortable temperatures. At the various hills on the course, we prayed that Kelly's legs would carry her swiftly uphill and down.

At one point in the course there was a small switchback, and on the website, it appeared that Kelly had inexplicably reversed her direction. "Turn around, Kelly!" we pleaded to the computer screens, then cheered as we saw the Kelly avatar on course once again.

As we watched Kelly make her way through the course, we also checked out the livestreaming video at the finish line. The webcam focused on the home stretch, and as runners crossed the finish line, hundreds of people cheered them on as loudspeakers announced the results. Some of the runners were laughing, others were crying, and many raised their arms in celebration. It was a personal celebration, but it was also a communal celebration. When Kelly came in, we were elated!

Throughout the marathon, we also connected on social media with other people following the marathon, either in the streets of Boston or online. We received updates from people at various points along the route, including Kelly's husband, who saw Kelly at about the 6-mile mark and reported on Facebook that she was doing very well. We saw updates from our Boston-area friends, Jacklyn and her family, whom we met online several years ago and who were at the marathon to encourage the runners. We cheered along with the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet, Saint Louis, for their Sr. Sarah Heger, who was also running the marathon.

Where two or more are gathered

The technology involved in the Boston Marathon helped me and all of us at A Nun's Life Ministry feel a strong connection not only with Kelly, but also with many other people who gathered around the event, whether they were in Boston physically or were online, as we were.

Technology enabled us to be present with others, albeit in different ways. For us, at the office in Ohio, we were no longer simply onlookers from a distance but were engaged with other people and the event itself. We felt a sense of community.

What remains with me the most about the experience was the outpouring of love, encouragement, and joy for the marathoners and, by extension, for all who endeavor to do their best in whatever challenges they face.

[Maxine Kollasch is a member of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary of Monroe, Michigan, and co-founder of A Nun’s Life Ministry, which was founded on the Internet in 2006 and is present at aNunsLife.org and in many social media.]