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Ragnar race proves a great fundraiser for Northland Family Programs

By Deacon Kyle Eller 
The Northern Cross 

Northland Family Programs, like many nonprofits, has had its normal fundraising events like dinner dances upended by the COVID-19 pandemic.  

But Anna Crain, the organization’s director, had an inspiration during a holy hour that ended up leading to the most successful fundraiser the organization, which uses natural family planning to help couples achieve or avoid pregnancy, has ever had, raising $32,000. 

By the time she got back to her desk from that holy hour, “Women Run for Women was really created,” she said. 

“We need community, and there’s women in our community who actually know the sacredness and even the power of natural family planning and how they have been impacted by that,” she said. 

She quickly began calling some of those people to ask if they would “be willing to come on board and use your time and start training for a run, which is the Ragnar Run,” a grueling, 200-mile relay race that goes from the Twin Cities to Duluth. 

“I got an overwhelming amount of yeses,” she said. 

Many of those women saying yes were women of childbearing age, some with four or five children. Some of the women ended up being pregnant by the time of the training or race. Crain said some of them became part of the prayer team supporting the runners, while two of the women who ran were pregnant and four were pumping. 

The team of runners was Sarah Lundy, Brainerd; Paula Steenrod, St. Paul; Micah Buekema, Hibbing; Katie Lisi, Duluth; Anna Crain, Duluth; KarLee Crain, Foreston; Elizabeth Spehar, who coached the team, St. Paul; Beth Sullivan, Duluth; Katie Habedank, Carlton; Rachel Bennett, Sandstone; Nikki Bennett, Duluth; and Elizabeth Nygarrad, Duluth. 

Supporting them on the prayer team were Maggie Walsh, Sam Nielsen, and Jenny Boran of Duluth; Vanessa Ryan, Minneapolis; and Charmaine Douglas, Cloquet. 

Crain said one of the other teams had a van that said “12 women, 28 children,” but their team was 12 women with 50 children among them, some of them being nursed along the route or being driven in minivans by their fathers. 

The response from other teams was positive. 

“They thought it was awesome that we would still go out and, in the midst of family life, commit to training and 36 hours of running,” Crain said. 

Crain said that in addition to being excited to support the mission of Northland Family Programs, the women were eager to show moms and single women that they could take on something like the race. 

“We’re created to do hard things, in community especially,” she said. 

Each of the runners was tasked with running multiple legs of the race, which on the short end might be three miles or on the longer side might be nine miles. One of the runners got sick after her first leg and had to pull out of the race, so others had to make up her sections. Toward the end, Crain said none of the team were really running by themselves, as teammates would join them. 

“They just wanted to support each other,” she said. 

Crain said the financial goal of $30,000 was a big, scary goal that some questioned, but she said even if the goal hadn’t been met there was something more happening with Women Run for Women than she could explain.  

The funds will be used to support Northland’s educational mission, for instance by providing free introductory sessions on natural family planning for those interested, and providing scholarships for services for those in financial hardship. 

Crain said Northland is planning to do it again next year and is looking for volunteers who would like to get in on the run, with a possibility of even having two teams if enough people are interested. 

She said you don’t have to have any running experience or be able to run a lot of miles. A coach will provide a training regimen, and the legs can be as short as three miles. 

“But to have a heart for the mission is almost more necessary,” she said. “That’s what united us in the end.” 

To find out more about joining the team, to support Northland Family Programs, or to find resources on natural family planning, visit