WESTFIELD, NJ — For the past 30 days, James Leitner has been running 30 miles each day in Tamaques Park. On Thursday, he ran his last mile of his latest endurance fundraising effort after surpassing his $30,000 goal to fund a clean water system for the St. Elizabeth’s All-Girls School in Uganda.
The Scotch Plains resident and 27-year-old founder of MissionCleanWater ran a total of 900 miles to represent the average distance that women and girls in Africa walk every year fetching water for their families.
“For the past 30 days, I've woken up at 4 a.m. every day, was caught in the middle of three thunderstorms and one tropical storm, experienced 20 days of triple-digit temperatures and pushed through immense pains and emotional exhaustion,” Leitner said. “I ran 30 miles a day for 30 days to see 1,000 students and their faculty have a lifelong source of clean drinking water. To make sure they never missed another lesson because they had to walk to collect water or became sick from drinking it.”
Leitner said the ultra-endurance event wasn’t for his own personal journey or sense of self-accomplishment.
“It was to better their lives,” he said. “I truly had no idea how my body was going to handle this. I was scared before day one, so I wrote a will. I knew no matter what I was about to experience, I was going to make sure those students have clean water.”
Leitner, whose previous ultra-endurance fundraisers have funded water systems that helped 4,500 people and 1,500 students gain access to clean drinking water, wasn’t alone on the track this summer. Joining him were more than 250 people running parts of the way, including a group of elementary school students from Cranford who each ran a mile a day.
“In the past 30 days, I have ran with over 250 people that felt motivated to join me and push me forward, experienced a new sense of community of local supporters and friends, enjoyed every moment outside racing kids on their bikes, witnessed dozens of people break through their personal running goals and received unconditional support from multiple communities,” Leitner said. “This would not have been possible without them.”
After 4 p.m. each day, Leitner said, he felt exhausted.
“But this time is crucial to coordinate with running groups, organize with our team in Uganda and prepare to run 30 miles the next day,” he said.
“On day 26, it felt like everything was crashing down on me with immense pressure,” Leitner said. “I randomly checked our fundraising page to just see where we were. The thermometer kept on going up and said we raised $30,270 of our $30,000 goal. When I saw this, all the pressure went away and it was hard to hold back the emotion I was experiencing. I was already packing my running supplies for tomorrow. I walked it to the trunk of my car, which I have been living out of for this event, and sat there tearing up from the confusing feeling of happiness and tranquility.”
As of Thursday, he had raised $33,000.
“A lot has happened the past 30 days, and it really is hard to explain everything. My body feels good but is mad at me,” Leitner said. “I have consumed an outrageous amount of electrolytes and bacon for fuel. Everyone that has supported me has played their own important role in helping me reach the finish line.”
He isn’t about to take a break, either. Leitner said he won’t rest until the St. Elizabeth's All-Girls School has access to clean water.
“Sure there are more adventures and fundraisers planned but now I want to see more people part of them,” he said. “Thank you to everyone that has helped me. I love you all.”
You can follow Leitner, learn more about MissionCleanWater and donate at missioncleanwater.org.
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