(Catholic Voice Omaha) – Two Omaha-area youths wear their pro-life commitment, boldly on their backs in the hope that it will literally save lives, and their public witness is earning them significant recognition.
Out of more than 6,000 student members worldwide, pro-life group LIFE Runners selected Jacob Costello and Clare Jandrain to receive the 2021 LIFE Runner Student of the Year Award during the organization’s banquet fundraiser March 25th in Omaha.
Costello and Jandrain both make it a priority to wear in public their LIFE Runners jersey, which displays on the back the message “REMEMBER The Unborn.”
Both are inspirations for different reasons, but both exemplify the mission of LIFE Runners, which is to provide a life-saving message to abortion-vulnerable mothers, said Pat Castle, founder of the Omaha-based pro-life apostolate and a member of both St. Matthew the Evangelist Parish in Bellevue and St. Columbkille Parish in Papillion.
The team jersey is the primary tool for communicating this message, and both Costello and Jandrain used the jersey in different, heroic ways to accomplish this, Castle said.
LIFE Runners has more than 18,000 members in 2,193 different cities in 41 countries, but “to have two people (as winners) from the same area is something,” noted Castle.
Castle said people are nominated for recognition throughout the year and the group’s leadership team also watches social media and identifies candidates based on noteworthy accomplishments and pro-life witness.
Founded in 2008 as a group of pro-life runners participating in races, LIFE Runners’ focus has evolved into sharing the pro-life message more widely.
“Everybody is qualified to be a LIFE Runner,” said Castle. “Running is optional. The only requirement is to wear your witness.”
Chapter members are expected to wear the LIFE Runners shirt on the first Wednesday of each month. Castle said this amplifies the jersey’s life-saving message.
“Seventy-eight percent of post-abortion women said if they had seen one pro-life sign before they had their abortion, they wouldn’t have gone into the abortion facility. One in four women have had an abortion in their child-bearing age,” he said. “The chances of (encountering) someone in a crisis pregnancy in a grocery store, at a movie theater, on the soccer field is good.
For several years, members of the Mercy High School Pro-Life Club wanted to form an official LIFE Runners chapter and follow the group’s requirement for spreading the message.
“The biggest barrier was the (school) uniform,” said Jandrain, who believed wearing the shirt throughout the day, both during and after school, was a great way to promote a pro-life message and possibly make a difference for abortion-vulnerable women she and club members might encounter.
“The chance of one of these women seeing the message is greater when more than one person is wearing the jersey. It’s a beautiful life-saving witness.”
Wearing the LIFE Runners jersey, however, conflicts with the school’s dress code. But Jandrain led the Pro-Life Club as they persisted in finding a creative solution to meet the LIFE Runners requirement while staying within the dress code.
“We overcame that issue by everyone wearing their shirt during the school’s dress-down days once or twice a month,” she explained. Wearing the shirt on the dress-down days met the criteria for being an official chapter because they all wore the shirt as a group on the same day, added Castle.
According to Castle, Jandrain is receiving the award because she knew the power of that witness, and she persisted until there was a way for their team to wear it together.
“Heroic means lifesaving. That’s what heroes do – they save lives,” he said. “That’s why we concentrate our witness. That’s what she worked to do (and) fought for.”
Kathy Kessler, Mercy English teacher and one of the Pro-Life Club moderators, said Jandrain did not initially tell others about her award.
“Clare’s leadership is wonderful. She’s been very humble and lives the mission of pro-life, for all life,” she said.
The club has held several activities this year including a service project with a senior group and a LIFE Runners dress-down day, which raised $600. The proceeds were donated to a couple of organizations, including Bethlehem House, a local crisis pregnancy home.
Upon learning of the award, Jandrain, who also prays outside the abortion clinic in Bellevue at least once each month, was surprised by the attention.
“I could not have done this on my own. I attribute any success … to prayer … to those around me who have inspired me and stood with me,” she said. “It’s about coming together and witnessing as a team, which brings more attention to the mission … (of) respecting life across all stages of life.”
For Costello, wearing the LIFE Runner’s pro-life message is a weekly commitment.
The sixth grader at Fort Crook Elementary School said he chooses to wear his jersey because doing so has a good chance of saving a life.
“So many women who have had an abortion say if they saw one sign not to have an abortion, they wouldn’t have had one,” he said.
His friends sometimes ask him what his shirt means. “I tell them it’s a pro-life message. It might help someone in need if they see it,” Costello said.
He tells them that pro-life means “you don’t hurt people. That means all innocent lives, not just the unborn.”
Castle said Costello was selected because he has integrated evangelization into his daily life, which also includes playing football, basketball, soccer and video games.
“Jacob does typical sixth-grade things, but there is nothing typical about him. He is choosing to wear a “REMEMBER The Unborn” (jersey) at least once a week. He is heroic in that respect,” said Castle.
While Costello is athletic, he was not a runner until his mom, Bernadette Costello, asked him if he would like to train and run a half marathon with her. She is the operations director for LIFE Runners.
They trained using the 12-week schedule for the half marathon, building up to 11 miles before the 13.1-mile race.
“He had no idea how hard it is to train and run the half marathon,” said Castle. “When it got hard, you know how easy it would have been for an 11-year-old to say, ‘I’m good Mom. I’m done.’
“When it got hard, they prayed the Rosary and the LIFE Runners’ creed together.”
The LIFE Runners’ creed states that members believe in the dignity of all life … and run as a prayer, to defend children in the womb.
Costello said he and his mom also prayed during the actual race – the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon and Half Marathon, a major national race on Nov. 6, 2021.
“It’s a long distance. I asked her to hold my hand the last few miles to push to the end, and then I was done,” he said.
He was the youngest finisher, crossing the finish line with his mom and sister. All three wore their LIFE Runners’ jerseys.
“The message is multiplied when more than one of us is wearing it,” said Bernadette. “That’s the importance of the shirt.”
Costello said he is proud that he did it. Although not planning another half marathon anytime soon, he will continue to wear the jersey. He will be in good company.
“Running is optional – to wear your jersey in public … to wear your witness, faith is required. Half of the team doesn’t run,” said Castle. “You have to wear something, why not wear your witness?”
LIFE Runners banquet
Jacob Costello and Clare Jandrain will receive their LIFE Runners Student of the Year Awards during the LIFE Runners Banquet March 25 at St. Elizabeth Ann Parish Event Center, 5419 N. 114th St., in Omaha.
Eva Muntean and Dolores Meehan, cofounders of the Walk for Life West Coast in San Francisco, the largest pro-life rally in 2021, will be the featured speakers.
Other awards recipients include: Man of the Year – Nathan Redcay, Jefferson City, Missouri; Woman of the Year – Leslie Crane, Jefferson City, Missouri; Leadership Award – Dr. Mitch Finnie, San Antonio, Texas; Lifetime Impact Award – Bishop Thomas Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois; Family of the Year – the Roshan Family from Fiji; Chapter of the Year – St. Elizabeth Public School, St. Elizabeth, Missouri.
The event begins with Mass at St. Elizabeth Ann Church at 5:30 p.m., followed by a social at 6 p.m. and dinner at 6:30 p.m.
Tickets are $50 for in-person and $25 for virtual tickets. To purchase tickets or for additional information, visit the website.
Reprinted with permission from Catholic Voice Omaha