Sometimes runners have a problem finding a reason to lace up their shoes and head out for a tour of the countryside.
Rev. James J. Maher, the new president of Niagara University, doesn’t think that will be a problem. All he has to do for inspiration is to look outside his residence’s window to see one of nature’s great places – the Niagara gorge.
“Our house is right on the edge of campus,” Maher said. “When I first got here, I had some special runs in the morning. I know the weather can get challenging, but that makes it special.
“You are running in God’s backyard.”
Students at Niagara who like to run should be happy to know that they have a kindred spirit in Maher, who became the university’s 26th president on Aug. 1. He’s been doing it for almost 30 years.
“I was kind of active as a kid in playing sports, but I started running when I was in the seminary,” he said. “It was in the mid-’80s, in ’85 or ’86. … I was in a picturesque place near Allentown, Pa. I did it to get away from the studies, to get out and get some exercise. That’s such a beautiful area. It became a habit.
“I find it a great way to step out of the pace of life. … I can get away and think about things, like a sermon on Sunday. I think of it as an opportunity. Insights will pop into my head.”
If you are thinking that Maher is not the type of person to put headphones on while running – even if it’s to hear some hymns – you’d be right.
“I’ve been out running along the gorge,” he said. “When you have a scene like that, with nature and water, who would need music?”
Sister Gerry Murray of Lackawanna, a frequent participant in road races around the area, says she likes to pray while she’s running. What’s more, she never runs out of subjects.
“The best prayers are lived,” Maher said. “Oftentimes things will pop into my head, like people I haven’t thought of in years, or family members. It’s a state that disposes you to prayer. You are trying to empty the mind, stepping out of a hard place. So what Sister says makes a lot of sense. It resonates. Prayer has so much to do with reflection.”
The new Niagara leader came to Western New York after a long tenure at St. John’s University in New York City, his alma mater. There Maher often worked closely with the school’s athletic teams. He even traveled with some of them and joined them for practices and team meals.
Perhaps he picked up some inspiration from the Red Storm’s cross country or track teams. In 1991, he ran the New York City Marathon for the first time.
“My first marathon was an exercise of denial. I was turning 30, so I said, ‘Let me run a marathon,’ ” Maher said with a laugh. “I still turned 30 – it actually was a great experience – and I was grateful.”
He finished in under five hours. That could have been it for 26.2-mile runs, but he soon became involved in a food program for the needy called the St. John’s Bread and Life Program. In 1994, a board member wanted to start a “Run Against Hunger” event that would raise money. Maher joined about a dozen other runners, and he ran 10 more New York City Marathons for that cause.
“It became a great way to help people who live in poverty,” he said. “Life for those people is like a marathon, except there are few water stops and no finish line. To take a wonderful event like that and link its energy and make an impact by raising awareness and money is terrific. It enabled us to sponsor families – 2,000 at Christmas time.”
Maher doesn’t think he has any more marathons in his future – “This feels like it has run its course, no pun intended,” he said – but a shorter race might be in his future. He plans to be out on the streets regularly, no matter how busy his days become.
“It’s a little bit of a challenge, but I’ve been a believer of making time for it,” Maher said. “I’ll run early in the morning, early on weekends, maybe get out in midday. It’s a healthy thing. I think it’s good for others to see the president and others out exercising. The pressures are the pressures, but I like to make time to ‘sharpen the saw,’ so to speak.”
And when he is spotted running, Maher will be wearing appropriate clothing for the setting – most of the time.
“I’m fully clothed in Purple Eagle gear – but as a graduate I held on to two St. John’s T-shirts,” he said.
• Food is Our Medicine 5K, 12857 Route 438, Irving, 9 a.m. today, 532-4900, ext. 5022.
• 8 in the Rough Trail Run, 8.7. miles, Sprague Brook Park casino, Glenwood, 10 a.m. today, 574-0888.
• Niagara Celtic 5K, Krull Park, Olcott, 10 a.m. today, 417-2410.
• Shea’s Run for the Arts, 5K, 646 Main St., 11:30 a.m. today, 553-0179.
• Chautauqua Ultras, various, Lakeside Park, Mayville, 7 a.m. Saturday, 607-0328.
• Hospice Dash, 5K, Porter-on-the-Lake Park, Youngstown, 9 a.m. Saturday, 998-5777.
• Dash for Dad/Zero Prostate Cancer 5K, Perry Street, 9 a.m. Saturday, 844-5646.
• Mighty Niagara Half Marathon, Artpark, Lewiston, 9 a.m. Saturday, 998-5777.
• Lebro’s Fall Classic, 5K, 330 Campbell Blvd., Getzville, 10 a.m. Saturday, 689-4507.
• Pheo Para Run, 5K, 3964 California Road,Orchard Park, 10 a.m. Saturday, 677-6788.
• 4 for the Corps, 4 miles, 145 North St., Arcade, 10 a.m. Saturday, 912-8172.
• Dash for Diversity, 9K relay, Delaware Park, 11 a.m. on Sept. 22, 417-4331.
• Tanya’s Trot for Epilepsy, 5K, Skyline Drive, Akron, 2 p.m. on Sept. 22, 541-2315.