DE PERE — Carrie Miller laughed out loud as she reminisced on her early running days. “I was in track for maybe a year or two in high school, but I really didn’t like it. They had me running the mile, which was terrible. And after college, I only started running to stay in shape.”
Twenty-one full marathons and a 50-mile ultra-marathon later, Miller is still running. But her most recent feat, a 100-mile ultra-marathon, left her with a worsening leg injury, requiring family, friends, fortitude and faith to complete it.
Placing sixth for the women and 39th overall, Miller finished the Kettle Moraine 100-mile ultra-marathon in less than 24 hours June 7. And despite the successful finish, Miller said her focus was on advancing the mission of the church.
“I remember having a conversation with my husband, Paul (about the idea of running 100 miles), and I told him that I felt like I wanted to do more, but I didn’t want to just run a race for me running the race,” Miller said. “It was way too big of a commitment, and I wouldn’t have felt whole doing it that way. That’s when we decided, ‘OK, we’re going to set a big fundraising target and do it for The Evangelical Catholic,’ because of the affiliation we had with Paul on the board.”
The Evangelical Catholic is a group based in Madison that equips various Catholic ministries with resources and training needed to lead a successful ministry. Carrie said the year-long preparations for the race led her family, her team, her friends and even total strangers to a stronger prayer life.
Pulling out a binder from the race, Carrie pointed out the back panel filled with small, folded up notes. She explained that the ultra-marathon was so much more than a fundraiser, and the little notes were the reason why.
“(People) would crunch notes up and put it in my little water bottle pouch,” she said. “I’d be taking some of my honey stinger chews, and I would come across a note for inspiration. This happened the entire race — papers with Bible quotes, notes, letters of people saying they lit a candle for me at Mass, even one that told me there were people praying for me from 30 different cities. It honestly was huge in keeping me going.”
Carrie raised nearly $15,000 for The Evangelical Catholic, and she said, even now, the funds “just keep rolling in.” However, Miller also said she never fails to recognize that although she is the runner, it is God who runs the show.
“When you’re little, you’re a taker. That’s not a bad thing; that’s just how it is,” she said. “After I graduated college, I realized I had a lot to give back to other people as they had given to me when I was younger. So, my husband and I think a lot about how blessed we’ve been and all of the gifts and talents we have, and we’re constantly thinking about how to use them as God would want us to: to help other people or spread the faith.”
Carrie and Paul lead marriage retreats at their cabin two to three times per year and share a background in Green Bay diocesan religious education. They have four children — Mia, 7, Anna, 6, Aaron, 3, and Molly, 1 — and the two oldest attend Catholic schools.
Paul attended Notre Dame Academy and Marquette University, while Carrie is a product of Roncalli and St. Norbert College. They’ve worked in youth ministry, adult ministry and now they coach the St. Norbert women’s tennis team together, where Carrie said they begin every match in prayer.
“Faith is not something that I pull out on Sundays,” she said. “It’s completely intertwined in all aspects of life. It’s something meant to be expressed and shared and excited about, and in doing that, we strive to be the best versions of ourselves.”
Carrie said her parents instilled faith and morals in her at an early age, especially when it came to praying as a family.
“It was just second-nature to continue that,” she said. “My parents gave me a really great example.”
Carrie said the secret to evangelizing all “begins with you.”
“When you’re not afraid to live it out, express it and acknowledge it, you could be giving people an avenue to open up and start talking about it,” she said. “In most situations, religion is almost taboo. So when you start talking openly, that can spark something in them. Once you embrace that calling, you start to see God all around you and working through you, and it’s a beautiful thing.”
So, what does the future hold for Carrie?
“For now, what’s next is running less,” she said. “It’s been a year in the process, and it’s been a ton. I need to focus on getting my injury healthy and discerning what God wants. Then, we’ll see where he takes me.”