The Very Beginning

As we prepare for the 10th year anniversary of Relay Iowa, I’ve been asked to look back. Let’s go to the very beginning, which would be the spring of 2008. My family and I were attending a church that was supporting an orphanage called The Pines. It was run by two young couples from Iowa, and I was curious about these people leaving everything and starting an orphanage in the middle of South Africa. Our church was looking for people to help at the orphanage for a few weeks. I felt drawn to go, to see for myself what it was like and what a person like me could do to help. My wife Jill,  like the supportive person she was, said “go for it!”

Changing My Heart

Off I went, and what I saw changed my life forever. At that time, AIDS was hitting South Africa hard. I only needed to see pre-dug graves once to have it sink in how awful the situation was for everyone. I was also moved by the friendliness of the people facing such hardships and the hard working people at The Pines. Many of the orphans there had AIDS, but they treated every child the same, with love and compassion. We visited a school filled with many children suffering from AIDS as well as a hospital where children were dying, sometimes without the love of family to provide comfort.

So much pain and suffering. It made me feel small and selfish. I remember talking with Brian Neihoff, the leader of The Pines, about putting together some kind of fundraiser to help them. Brian commented that others had talked about doing something, but it’s hard because people return to the states, get busy and lose focus. He was right. It was tempting to stop there, but I could not get those images out of my mind of pre-dug graves and kids wanting to be held or touched as they suffered.

An Idea is Born

On my long flight home, I had time to think about everything. I recalled a friend talking about his cross-country team running down Highway 30 across Iowa. If they could do it, maybe we could turn something like that into a fundraising event. The more I thought about it, the more excited I became. With input from many people and the continued support of my wife, we decided to try to start a relay event beginning on a Friday and continuing day and night until Sunday. Relay Iowa was born…….. kind of.  

Turns out, the state of Iowa isn’t crazy about the idea of people running on open roads. We had to design the route to include the straightest AND safest path possible. It quickly became apparent we were going to need help. We asked our small group from church and the first couple to step up were the Rheins. Lynn and Scott Rhein have been the bedrock the relay was set upon. They have given countless hours to the project and kept us all on task. Together we learned all about the Iowa road system and obtaining insurance for such an event. Now all we needed was to find people nuts enough to run it…..