A festive mood permeated the predawn air as 2,500 Seventh-day Adventists attending the General Conference session in San Antonio, Texas, traded the comfort of their beds for a 5K Fun Run.
The “InStep for Life” run, which covered a downtown loop close to the Henry B. González Convention Center, where part of the session activities are taking place, gathered church workers and their families to support physical exercise as a key component of a healthy life.
“My reason to be here is very simple: I just want to be healthy,” said Jonathan Kuntaraf, 68, director of the Sabbath School department of the General Conference.
“Presently, exercise is the best indication of a long life,” added Kuntaraf, who plans to retire after the end of the General Conference session on July 11.
John Bradshaw, speaker and director of the It Is Written television ministry, said he could not imagine not being part of the race, and then he quipped with a big smile, “I just wonder how fair it is to let the Kenyans run,” a nod to a country famous for its long-distance runners.
Vicente Sanchez, a San Antonio police officer assigned to assist in road closings near the finishing line, expressed disbelief at the sight.
“If I were not on duty, there is no doubt, I would be sleeping. But to see all these families together, from all over the world . . . it is just impressive!” he said.
The first runner across the finish line was Elpidio Sanchez Rocha, from Mexico, with a time of 18 minutes and 46 seconds. The winning woman runner was Yanory Hernandez of Downers Grove, Illinois, with a time of 20 minutes and 43 seconds.
The race, sponsored by the health ministries departments of the General Conference and the North American Division, was very much a family affair. Many parents and their children ran together, and some were seconded by grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins.
Youngsik Ham, a South Korean national who serves as a lay evangelist coordinator in Uganda, ran together with his son, Hyungwoo, 6, and his daughter, Seojin, 9. And Emilio and Ixchel Sobrino, from Mexico City, Mexico, ran as part of a family group of eight, including 18-month-old Eleonor, who was registered by her parents and, with her own racing bib, was pushed in her stroller along the 5,100 meters of the event route.
About 15 minutes before the starting time at 6:00 a.m., runners were led in warm-up exercises by a group of physical trainers. Among the thousands warming up were Paul and Joanne Ratsara, who took part in the run together with a son, a daughter, and a daughter-in-law. Ratsara, president of the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division and a regular runner, was very clear about the reason for their presence.
“We feel passionate about the health message,” he said. “And we do it in appreciation for God’s gift of life.”
His wife seconded, saying their goal was to praise God, make a statement, and inspire others to seek better health.
“We want to show others that even when you are over 50, you can keep fit and running,” she said. “Everyone needs to see that we do not only talk about health but that we practice what we preach.”
A light moment before the run was provided by Lincoln Steed, editor of the Adventist religious liberty magazine Liberty. Steed, who in his youth was a runner but has not run lately, was asked to replace Charles Ecklund, a fellow member of his local church in Maryland who regularly competes in triathlon runs but had to cancel at the last minute.
“I’ll run on behalf of him,” said Steed, who donned Ecklund’s racing bib. “No doubt about it, it will be the worst [race finish] time he’ll ever get.”