2016-08-11 / News

Peace Run inspires as it crosses through Maine

By Michael Kelley and Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writers

Tavishi Matthews, of Australia, runs along Alfred Street by Five Points intersection Monday as part of the Sri Chinmoy Oneness-Home Peace Run. (Ben Meiklejohn photo) Tavishi Matthews, of Australia, runs along Alfred Street by Five Points intersection Monday as part of the Sri Chinmoy Oneness-Home Peace Run. (Ben Meiklejohn photo) On Monday close to a dozen runners from The Sri Chinmoy Oneness-Home Peace Run ran through southern Maine as part of its North American stretch that covers 10,000 miles and stops at schools and youth groups along the way. Also known as the World Harmony Run, the run was founded by Sri Chinmoy in 1987 and aims to spread goodwill and oneness among the people runners meet along the way. Since 1987, the run has passed through some 150 countries from Albania to Zimbabwe and everywhere in between.

A men’s and women’s team each ran portions of the 80-mile stretch from Scarborough to Hampton, New Hampshire this week in a torch relay where each runner took a turn carrying the torch for approximately six miles.

The North American leg, which started in New York City in mid-April, made its way through 37 states, with stops in Mexico and several in Canada before it will conclude Saturday, Aug. 13 back in New York City. The European Peace Run started in Portugal in February and will cover 16,000 miles before it concludes in Rome in October. Another Peace Run is taking part in Asia and the Pacific Islands from May to October.

Members of the North American Peace Run team stopped in Scarborough Monday morning to sing songs about peace with campers at Camp Ketcha on Black Point Road. (Michael Kelley photo) Members of the North American Peace Run team stopped in Scarborough Monday morning to sing songs about peace with campers at Camp Ketcha on Black Point Road. (Michael Kelley photo) On Monday, the runners started their day with a celebration at Camp Ketcha in Scarborough, a frequent stop whenever the Peace Run passes through the greater Portland area. The run has visited the camp half a dozen times, the last time being four years ago.

“This is a beloved stop,” said Tavishi Matthews, of Canberra, Australia, who has been participating on the run since April.

Ashadeep Volkhardt, of Adelaide, Australia, said, “It’s so powerful to see the children making dreams and wishes for peace. The kids really like the peace run.”

Volkhardt joined the run in Montreal and is continuing to New York City.

Matthews said she has met adults who remembered meeting the peace runners as children, when the run had passed through their community.

Camp Ketcha Executive Director Tom Doherty said, “It’s great for kids to be exposed to a different culture, it really makes the world a better place.”

Doherty said the runners “engage really well with our campers,” which this week included roughly 350 kids ages 3 to 14.

The Peace Run team, which included runners from Australia, Colombia, France, Hungary, Iran, Mexico, New Zealand, Ukraine and the United States, performed peace songs, skits and allowed the campers to touch a peace torch and run with them.

Matthews said thousands of people across the world have held the torch or even run with it.

Harita Davies, a runner from New Zealand, told the campers that Chinmoy started the run “to share the message that peace starts with all of us.”

She also said the Peace Run visits groups of children just like them in countries all over the world.

“There are kids all over the world that like you are spreading the message of peace,” she said.

Matthews said the runners run relay style, trying to cover 100 miles a day. Runners, she said come and go, as their schedules permit.

“Overall we have many, many countries participate over the course of the four months,” she said.

Arpan DeAngelo, from New York City, is a captain of the men’s team who is doing the entire North American trip except for two weeks in which he couldn’t participate. Arpan said only two men and one woman are actually doing the entire North American route. As the teams passed through southern Maine this week, DeAngelo said he was the only American on the team. DeAngelo also ran in the first run in 1987, when Chinmoy was still alive.

Matthews said the runners receive a lot of good will during their journey, often getting free accommodations in hotels and campsites along the way. Even though the teams split up to cover different portions of the route, Matthews said they all reconvene together at the end of the day.

However, the logistics of organizing the run aren’t always easy, said Matthews.

“The running is the easy part,” she said.

While passing through Saco along U.S. Route 1, Volkhardt missed the right hand turn to stay on Route 1 and ended up crossing the Saco River into Biddeford along Main Street. The van lost track of Volkhardt and had to find her.

“We’re always conscious of where we have to be and when,” Matthews said.

One of her duties, said Matthews, is to prepare dinner for all the runners when they meet up. After passing through Biddeford and Saco, the runners met up with the peace run’s motor home on Log Cabin Road in Arundel. While not running, other members of the team follow the runner in a van, providing water and communicating as needed.

Prakhara Harter, who handles media relations for the peace run, said the relay comes to the U.S. every other year and the U.S. run was expanded two years ago to include Mexico and Canada.

Olivia Lopez, who is from Oaxaca, Mexico, said she is an athlete who loves sports.

“By running with the torch and inspiring people, I’m doing what I love to do,” Lopez said.

Lopez said the has participated in parts of the run in Canada, Mexico and the U.S. and plans to go to Europe to carry the torch for parts of the run before it concludes there in October. Lopez will meet the European women’s team in Belarus and join them through Turkey and Greece to the finish line in Rome, Italy, where 4,000 to 6,000 children will be there to greet them.

Matthews said she got involved in the peace run because she wanted a change of pace from her work schedule and wanted to see America, all while spreading good will.

“I normally work in an office behind a computer,” Matthews said. “I like running and I always wanted to see America. I feel good doing something worthwhile in the world and celebrating the good things in our communities … It brings out the best in everyone.”

Harter said, “That each person can be a part of that process in their own way, by taking a step for peace, by holding or running with the torch, by feeling peace within their own hearts, they can spread peace.”

“We especially like to meet with children and get their thoughts on what peace means to them – give kids a chance to tell us what it means,” she added.

Davies participated in her first Peace Run 20 years ago in New Zealand and ran in the North American run for the first time 12 years ago. She has run with the North American team for two months over two different stretches. She ran with the group from Oklahoma to Canada and then flew to Germany to run for three weeks in the European peace run – which included stops in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. She recently flew back west to rejoin the North American run in Montreal and has been with the group for the last two weeks.

“It was such a great experience,” she said of having the opportunity to participate in the Peace Run in two different continents. A particular highlight, she said, was interacting with the children of Russia.

Davies said the run is a great way to see the world and connect with people in different countries.

“You have a real experience with this. You really experience the people of a country and realize that 99.9 percent of people want peace in the world, are really good people and are doing good things everyday to promote peace,” she said as campers were passing peace torches around.

Aside from connecting with children during their stops, Davies said people stop the runners all the time to learn more about the cause. They also hear from the countless others than drive by during the run.

“There are hundreds of thousands of people who don’t stop, but we often get messages from those people as well,” she said.

Harter said it is inspiring to runners when people come out to encourage them, or even when people take the torch and run with it for a few blocks.

“Anybody can join in. We’ll pass it on to anyone who’s in their front yard,” she said.

Davies said participating in the run has helped to change her outlook of the world and its people, especially those in this country.

“In New Zealand, you don’t hear a lot of good things about America. When I came and met the people here, I fell in love with America and its goodness and the beauty of the landscape. I can’t think of anything more meaningful that I can do with my life than this,” Davies said.

Several current and former world leaders, including Pope Francis, Nelson Mandela, Mikhail Gorbachev, Mother Teresa as well as noted sports icons, Muhammad Ali and 9-time Olympic gold medal runner Carl Lewis, have supported the run.

The message of the Peace Run, Davies said, goes hand-in-hand with the Olympics. Both promote the coming together of people from different countries to promote peace, goodwill and striving to be the best one can be and provide the inspiration that Davies said the “world badly needs” right now.

Harter said she knew the run’s founder Chinmoy, who died in 2007, very well. Chinmoy was a runner, author, musician and athlete who loved to inspire others, she said.

“It was his inspiration to have this run,” Harter said. “He felt it could be one way people could spread peace. He was a very inspirational person.”

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