Xenia, OH – It started small and simple, then swelled to a community event that will benefit HIV/AIDS patients and the very sick in southern Africa.

Such was the 1st annual 5K Run/Walk Race in Xenia On September 11, sponsored by local enthusiasts of The Luke Commission, a faith-based, non-profit ministry operating in Eswatini since 2005.

Some 194 participants and 30 volunteers, including Xenia’s mayor, supported the race.

“I was encouraged with the zeal of this next generation who don’t just say they want to make a difference but actively do something,” said co-director Mark Kordic.  Assisting Kordic was Phyllis Brown, a Miami Valley Hospital nursing supervisor.

“These young people are not just taking a casual interest.  They want to save lives.  They came and ran and brought 10 others with them,” Kordic said.

Dr. Harry and Echo (PAC) VanderWal work in Eswatini, a tiny African country with the highest HIV/AIDS rate in the world.

The VanderWals went to medical schools and lived in Ohio for 14 years.  Their triplet sons and a younger son were born here.

With a team of 15 highly-trained Emaswati, the VanderWals direct free healthcare clinics, treating more than 25,000 rural patients a year.

(The VanderWals will be back in the States for an annual TLC auction dinner on Nov. 7, this year at Wright State.)

Xenia Mayor Marsha Bayless welcomed  5K participants on behalf of the city at Shawnee Park, where the race started and ended.

“You exemplify the hope in this community and around the world,” Mrs. Bayless told the audience, 70 per cent of whom were college students.

‘Here’s a group that loves Africa,” Kordic said.  “A month before many did not know of The Luke Commission.  Then nursing students came back from helping the VanderWals. They saw firsthand the great needs in Eswatini and promoted the event.”

Kordic continued:  “Those students created a deep-seated awareness of TLC.”

The city of Xenia, Greene County’s county seat, jumped in and co-sponsored the race, so a variety of fees were waived.  The police and fire departments assisted, too.

Five different age groups made up the runners and walkers.  Medals and prizes were awarded in each group for guys and gals.  Each prize had 6 different items, thanks to the efforts of Pat Harris.

First place runner was Paul Winfield with a time of 17:40; 2nd place was Dan Adrinsen at 17:54; and 3rd place, the top female runner, was Rachel Hurley at 17:59.  “She was flying,” Kordic said of Hurley.

The idea for a run/walk came from Echo VanderWal when Phyllis Brown served her first short-term in Eswatini last year.

“It was just an idea Echo and I talked about, imagining what we could do to make Xenia and surrounding areas more conscious of The Luke Commission,” said Brown.

After meeting Kordic at last year’s “Evening in Eswatini” benefit auction in Cedarville, Brown paired up with Tina Spencer.  Together the women started working on the September, 2010, race.

“For a first time, it was amazing,” Brown said.  “Neighbors and friends volunteered to help along the route.  It was a beautiful day, and people just kept showing up to run and support The Luke Commission.”

Often a runner but never before an organizer, Brown said:  “I give all the glory to God. I don’t take any credit.  People worked together for a good cause.”

Brown has volunteered her nursing skills in Eswatini for the last two summers.

“It was a privilege and humbling to work with the VanderWals,”” she said, impressed by the couple’s dedication and determination to go to places where others do not serve and to stay until all patients are treated.

Next year’s 5K race is already being planned, probably for October, Brown noted.  She said surveys will be sent to all the runners asking them how the race can be improved.

by Janet Tuinstra