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Inspired runner wants to inspire others

Look for a runner along the Lakewalk today wearing a T-shirt with the number 413. That's Chris Gillespie of Calera, Ala., stopping by on his way to Saturday's Fargo (N.D.) Marathon.

Look for a runner along the Lakewalk today wearing a T-shirt with the number 413. That's Chris Gillespie of Calera, Ala., stopping by on his way to Saturday's Fargo (N.D.) Marathon.

He's covering 413 miles by foot over 10 days to bring attention to Gracerunner Ministries, a Christian, nondenominational, not-for-profit volunteer organization. Gillespie, 52, head athletic trainer at Samford University of Birmingham, Ala., severely injured his back in 1986 while running, and in recovery chose a Bible verse as inspiration, Philippians 4:13 -- "I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me."

This 10-day trip began May 12 in Birmingham as Gillespie and five crew members, including his wife, Kiki, boarded a 31-foot mobile home. He has stopped to run in Tennessee, Missouri, Illinois and now Minnesota.

"I was able to come back from something horrific, and my message is simple: If I can do this, you can, too. I've embraced this and I'm in relentless pursuit of spreading the word," Gillespie said this week. "We may not all be able to run a 4-minute mile or fly like Superman, but we all have gifts that make up who we are. We can't live life without the love of Christ. That's what helped me get through my ordeal and I came out a better man."

While running along Lakeshore Drive in Birmingham, next to traffic during rush hour 15 years ago, a ping-pong table became airborne off the back of a pickup truck and struck Gillespie in the back. His sacrum was crushed while suffering nerve and muscle damage from the top of his shoulders to his feet. During rehabilitation it seemed unlikely that Gillespie would be able to walk normally again let alone have any hope of running.

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The Bible verse led to the start of Gracerunner Ministries eight years ago. Gillespie says that approximately 40,000 endurance athletes, most of them runners, wear 413 T-shirts and gain strength through its message.

"Everyone is running from something or toward something, and 413 helps you cope," he said.

Gracerunner Ministries is represented at about 40 running events a year, says Gillespie, and will have a booth at the Grandma's Marathon expo June 17 at the DECC. He expects to run in a third straight Garry Bjorklund Half-Marathon on June 18. On the current trip, money is being raised for homes to be built in Mexico and for Boys and Girls Town of Springfield, Mo., in addition to the Beardsley Foundation, which is led by the Grandma's Marathon course record-holder, Dick Beardsley.

Running for the 6-foot, 215-pound Gillespie, however, requires prayer and some effort. He's been suffering through leg tendinitis this week and has had to walk a number of miles. He arrived in Duluth at 4:30 a.m. Tuesday and logged about 25 miles on the Lakewalk. He and his group will be in Fargo on Thursday.

"To be running at all, after my accident, is a miracle," said Gillespie. "My journey since then has been to give everything I have every day."

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