TEMPE — Robert Stilwell, 91, was the oldest runner in the sixth annual Desert Nun Run, placing first in his division — male runners between 90 and 99.
“They didn’t think I could make it — boy did I fool them!” joked the World War II veteran and Riverside, California, resident who ran the race with his wife of 64 years, Madeline, and two of their children. Stilwell’s son, Tom, first participated in the race a few years ago and invited the family to run this year.
The Desert Nun Run, held March 7 at Tempe’s Kiwanis Park, drew more than 700 Catholic and non-Catholic participants from near and far. The annual race is used as a fundraiser for the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, with the goal of eventually building a monastery in Tonopah so the sisters can live out their cloistered vocation.
This year’s theme, “Don’t stop, persevere in running the race,” taken from Hebrews 12:1-2, had special significance for Katie Hodge, a social work graduate student from Arizona State University, who’d never run a 5K before.
“You don’t know the track, so you don’t know where you are in relation to the finish line,” Hodge said. “I wanted to be able to say to myself that I never stopped — that I ran the whole thing.”
The sisters’ spokesperson, Sr. John-Mark Maria, said they don’t run because the emphasis is on people running for the nuns.
“It allows us to be present to the people that gather, so instead of being out on the course running, we’re able to share our life and greet people,” she said. “It’s not about the novelty of a nun running — it’s about sharing our life one-on-one.
“It’s amazing the number of people this is their fourth or fifth Nun Run,” Sr. John-Mark added. “For some people it’s become like a tradition.”