Running To Heal

Hello Webb fans! Our good friend Kelsey (and Joanie’s “fairy” godmother) is doing something really cool I wanted to share. She’s heading to Uganda to help bring running to former child-soldiers. Before I go further check out her website here:

joanie + kelsey copyKelsey and I have been friends since 2010 when we started competing together for the Run Portland team. She’s always been an inspiration in that she is always finding things to do that are totally unselfish and for the good of the world. It makes me want to help- especially now that my baby Joanie has grown up to be a pretty low maintenance 1 year old. 6 months ago I didn’t even have the time to eat a meal without watching her in the bath. Recently I realized pretty soon I’ll be gaining weight since I have so much free time to eat. That has also lead me to thinking that I need to do more than just be a mom who runs.


We all have the need to do something good once in a while and recently it really struck me. I thought about bringing a random homeless person of downtown Portland into Pepinos for a meal again to sit down and hear their life story (yes Alan and I did that once). Then I realized it might be safer for me to just help Kelsey make her mission a success and share her story. So in honor of Joanie being a good little baby, I have time to write this blog and hope you will read and consider what you could do to help.

For Kelsey, she always has the drive to help others, even during her hectic and busy life which includes grad school, volunteering, singing at church, being a nanny, and training to run. Above all it has been obvious to me that her priority has always been what she can do to give to others. Her latest endeavor involves a 6 week trip to Uganda to lead a distance running project for a group of orphans; all of which were recently child-soldiers.

Kelsey is currently in grad school for Intercultural Studies, and has once again went above and beyond the minimum with her upcoming internship. She has been moved to help bring running into the lives of children in desperate need of healing. They were held in captivity by the Lord’s Resistance Army, and forced to fight against their own people and Ugandan government (1986-2009). Not long ago, these former child-soldiers endured brainwashing, torture, and rape and were forced to kill people in the name the LRA, led by the infamous Joseph Kony. Her project’s goal is to bring running as a form of rehabilitation and a healthy, fun outlet for their energetic bodies.

The organization she is joining is called Children of Peace, Uganda (COPU). COPU was established in 2010 in response to the rehabilitation needs of child-soldiers who had survived the war. As part of their rehabilitation efforts COPU has used counseling and art therapy, which are both really helpful.

However it seems like it’s easy to see something is missing! I’m sure there are some restless kids like me who can’t wait for the counselor to let them out the door so they can go back to chasing boys on the playground. But what if the boys don’t like that girl and it’s only because they are jealous because she happens to be the fastest one out there? I don’t think drawing a few cats in art class are going to solve that dilemma. Sounds like Kelsey will be the answer she is looking for! And yes, that means those boys will also have a chance to get faster with some formal training of intervals and fartlek!


In all seriousness, everyone knows running and physical activity can be the best form of healing and a productive way to channel energy. For me personally, I went through a really tough time in high school and it wasn’t until I found the sport of running during my senior year that I felt like I found my place in life. I loved the freedom each workout and race gave me. The hard burning efforts brought me healing from the disappointments and failure of my past. I’m sure some of the kids could relate and would love to feel the buzz after hammering out some 400 repeats someday!

Kelsey’s project aspirations really began to form way back in 2010 just after we met and started training on the Run Portland team. While I was living the good life sipping americanos at coffee shops in Portland she went on a trip to Haiti to work in an orphanage and help rebuild homes following the disastrous 7.0 earthquake in Port au Prince. When she returned from that trip she stumbled upon a documentary about child-soldiers in Uganda, called Children of War.


After Haiti she started brainstorming another way to reach out beyond herself. I’m sure she had probably volunteered for a number of things I didn’t hear about but what I do know is that in 2012 she met and became friends with Julius Achon at the Eugene Marathon and immediately wanted to help his cause. Heard of him? (Watch his amazing story here!) Julius was once abducted and forced to be an LRA child-soldier himself and later became a Nike athlete/two-time Ugandan Olympian. He now has his own foundation to help his people, the Acholi of Northern Uganda, the Achon Uganda Children’s Fund.

kelsey and julius

This year at Fuller Theological Seminary, Kelsey’s history professor heard she had volunteered with Julius’ organization and knew she was heavily researching the LRA conflict, child-soldiers, and the history of the Acholi people. Her professor suggested she get in touch with Devon, his niece, who had recently volunteering in Uganda with former child-soldiers.

Kelsey connected with Devon who invited her to come watch a documentary at a local high school in Pasadena. (the two of them are good friends now too, which a awesome!)

kelsey and devon

It was a busy time with school but at the last minute Kelsey decided to go to the event. Devon had mentioned a woman “Jane” numerous times on the phone, and how excited she was to introduce Kelsey to Jane. Kelsey went to the event having no idea who Jane was but hoping to connect more with people who shared her passion for helping children.

Walking in she was introduced to Jane, then the event began and scenes from a documentary were shown, which happened to be the same one she had seen years ago. Even more amazing, the woman beside her, Jane, having just been introduced, was coincidentally (or not) the narrator of the documentary Children of War and a child trauma counselor for COPU. Jane had already heard all about Kelsey through Devon and knew her internship required a 6 week cross-cultural immersion. At that meeting Jane told Kelsey they were praying for people like her- educated, creative and energetic. Here is a picture of Jane and Kelsey the night they met back in April of this year.


Kelsey asked how she could help and unexpectedly Jane asked what she could do for them. After a few weeks she committed to helping and came up with the idea of bringing her passion of running to these kids. This plan and project is now a reality which will soon give these children (who also happen to be orphans) an opportunity to run!

So as Kelsey is leaving in less than 3 weeks, she still faces some challenges. Exactly how this is going to work out will all depend on many factors, including having enough funds to get there! She’s raising money to cover flights, travel once she’s there and medications. This is a pilot program which she hopes to lead with another person at the organization who can continue guiding the children in the running program.

Without a doubt, I know this will be a success! From my experience I know that when I have gone through a personal “war” with myself, and have struggled in other areas of my life, the more energy and drive I have when I get the opportunity to give it my all in a race. If I had actually been in a war the pain would be much greater so to compare my life to these children is not fair. To survive war as a child (or adult) unimaginable, and you can then add to that the sexual abuse that occurred to many of the children. No doubt they have lots of stored up anger and what better way to cleanse themselves than to run their hearts out.

he who has health

These kids need this and thankfully Kelsey has found the means and space in her heart to come help out. On her website she will be keeping us updated with how the program will be coming along. I’m excited for her and just wanted to help get the word out!! I know people don’t always love to hear “please donate” but even a couple bucks from each person who has a moment to think “yeah this is a good cause” could easily put her at her goal and send her on her way. (If that’s an option for you reading – go here!)

Kelsey you are awesome! Best of luck!!!! This definitely is much more giving than the time I tried offering a begging homeless guy my Clifbar and Gatorade only to get it thrown back at me saying he only needs cash so he can get high. Maybe someday we could go to Africa together. Keep inspiring the world and thanks all for reading!

One comment

  1. Reblogged this on bu11etpoints and commented:
    My dear friend Julia Webb just wrote a generous and seriously awesome blog about how my Uganda distance running project came to be! Lots of photos to help tell the story too. Check it out!

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