Five ambitious Columbia County women are gearing up for the biggest run they’ve ever tackled, and it’s all in the name of charity. On April 15, they will run 30 miles on Highway 30, from the Rainier High School track to the Scappoose High School track, to raise money to help end the clean water crisis. And they’re hoping you’ll follow along on the adventure.
The idea evolved after two of the girls completed their last big run. Katrina Sharp, of St. Helens, and Alison Kangas, of Scappoose, had just completed the Ragnar Relay in New York. “We were with ten other ladies from across the U.S. and we’d had this really fun experience with them,” Kangas said. “But the whole conversation felt like, ‘Well, what’s your next running thing?”
The ladies didn’t have an answer … but they wanted one. As they were driving back through the Adirondack Mountains, they happened to turn on a podcast hosted by Scott Harrison, the founder and CEO of Charity: Water. An erstwhile party promoter, Harrison founded the organization after a “crisis of conscience” during a vacation in Uruguay. “He was talking about doing things outside of yourself, doing things that push your limits and, through those things, how to raise money to fundraise for Charity:Water,” Kangas said.
Immediately inspired, Kangas and Sharp began pausing the podcast and talking back and forth about how they could tie running into the cause. “We felt as runners, we do a lot of self-serving running,” Sharp said. “We get into runs and enjoy it as hobbies, it’s a lot of stress relief and we just enjoy being outside. But what can we do to help someone else?”
The idea of running 30 miles was born out of learning that just $30 can provide one person with clean water. With Highway 30 running through both of their towns, their vision began to fall into place, even though neither of them had ever run more than 13 miles.
Immediately, they knew they had to reach out to their friend Ashley Strausser of Scappoose. A runner since 2006, she had the experience they needed. When she came on board, she floated the idea of making the run a relay. Kangas and Sharp would run the full 30 miles, while three others would run with them in individual ten mile stretches for moral support.
Then, they tapped Kangas’s sister, Briana Rotter. The sisters had grown up in Rainier and now both lived in Scappoose. “She’s the one that got me started running,” Kangas said. “She’s got a big running background and is ranked collegiately.”
It was Rotter’s idea to run from Rainier to Scappoose, which neither Kangas nor Sharp had considered. “So, I mapped it out and it’s like 31 miles from the Rainier track to the Scappoose track, so that’s how we landed on our course,” Kangas said.
Finally, they knew they needed someone with an optimistic personality that could keep them focused on their goal. For that, they tapped Katie Olson, of Warren. “Katie is super encouraging, super motivational,” Kangas said. “She’s the veteran of the group.”
They shared the podcast with their potential running mates and all decided to come on board. With their team in place, they set their goal: to raise $10,000 for Charity:Water. Between $6,000 and $20,000 can fund a well for a community or a bio-sand filter system. 100 percent of their proceeds will go the organization, and when someone donates to their website, www.30for30run.com, they can follow the money for 18 months to see which country it goes to and what is being done with the funds.
“When you listen to Scott Harrison’s story, you can’t help but be inspired by it,” Strausser said. “I’ve got three kids, we’re all moms, ya know? The idea that women walk an average of six kilometers a day to collect dirty water for their family? That’s heart breaking. I think about the fact that I have to walk to my kitchen … I couldn’t even count the number of times of day that I do that.”
The Highway 30 runners learned that the number of people that die from water-related diseases is more than all forms of violence combined, including war. One in ten people on the planet, or roughly 663 million, do not have access to clean drinking water and ultimately, the girls say, this is a solvable problem. “I think that’s one of the most encouraging things about it,” Strausser said. “Like in running, we’re working towards a finish line and one day we will see that. Hopefully in our lifetime.”
The ladies are now in training four or five days a week, averaging about 30 to 40 miles. The longest run for Sharp and Kangas to date is 16 miles. “We’re over halfway there,” Kangas said.
They have also been reaching out to local groups and churches to share Charity:Water’s story. They ask only for a $30 donation, the cost of one person’s clean water, but say you can donate less or more.
The girls understand why some people might ask them why they aren’t supporting a local cause, but for these runners, this is the cause they say was put on their hearts. “We know there’s needs in our community as well. We’ve all lived in Columbia County or served in county churches, but there’s something that can happen within your heart even when you have needs,” Rotter said. “Yes, our county, our state, our country, has needs. But when you’re able to look outside yourself and realize that there’s a big world out there and realize what we do have, it changes our heart to an attitude of gratefulness. When people come at their life with a grateful heart instead of thinking about all the things they don’t have … that can change the world.”
About the runners
30-mile runner - Katrina Sharp, 39, St. Helens: Sharp has been running for three years now and is the mother of two boys, aged 19 and 16. “I have just a lot more time on my hands now that my boys are older and I had gained a little bit of weight and I thought, I need to get fit, and what is a great way to get fit? It’s walking and running,” she said.
So, Sharp started at the St. Helens track, running the straights and walking the curves. One mile turned into two, two into three, and off she went.
“My first actual race was the Hippie Chick and Alison had gotten a bunch of friends together to do that. I was really excited because halfway through I thought, ‘I can do this! I can actually come in at a really good pace,” Sharp said. When she came around the corner she realized she was in the top 20 or 30 runners. “I thought, ‘I can be really fast.’ I love the speed of it.”
Her favorite runs are 5Ks because she enjoys challenging herself to see how fast she can go. She said running the 30 miles will be a huge mental challenge for her and a test in endurance. “It’s going to be really interesting to see how Alison and I handle this kind of distance,” Sharp said. “I will tell you, probably about mile 25 I will be thinking about my Jacuzzi tub.”
Sharp is married to “a great husband” and works for the City of Portland’s Office of Management and Finance.
30-mile runner – Alison Kangas, 25, of Scappoose: Kangas is a foster mom and has a three-year-old daughter of her own. In the last nine months, she and her husband of six years have fostered six children. “We have one long-term placement and then several short-term placements,” she said.
She started running with her high school cross-country team in Rainier, but said she didn’t enjoy it back then. “I was very, very slow and overweight,” she said. Her sister Briana was a senior on the team and told her they needed an extra person to compete. They still keep in touch with their old coach, Brad Pinkstaff, who is still in Rainier. “He’s not surprised that she’s still running, but he’s surprised that I stuck with it and like it.”
Kangas has been consistently running for the last three years and has not taken more than a week off. She also works part time for Columbia Wealth Advisors, an estate and financial planning company.
10-mile runner – Briana Rotter, 28, of Scappoose: Rotter is Alison’s older sister and has been running since she was 14, “but I actually would run three miles and then quit running for three months until my high school cross country coach, Brad Pinkstaff, recruited me back to it.”
She finally committed to the team during her senior year, and ended up running for the University of Portland after falling in love with the sport. She has completed several Hood to Coast marathons.
Rotter is a nurse practitioner and professor at her alma mater, teaching in the nursing program. “As a nurse, I know the impact that clean water can have on peoples’ health at a global level,” she said. “That’s what inspires me to get behind this.”
Rotter has been married to her husband for eight years and they have a 15 month old daughter.
10-mile runner – Ashley Strausser, 39, of Scappoose: Strausser grew up in Ohio before moving to Scappoose in 2016 when her husband was offered a job in the area. She quit her job of 11 years in higher education and is now a stay-at-home mom of three girls, aged eight, five and 19 months.
“I ran my first race ever in 2006 and I’m pretty sure I didn’t like it,” Strausser said. “I was really slow at it but I just kind of kept chugging along. I just did it for exercise and then I started running with a couple of girlfriends of mine.”
Strausser said running with her friends became her therapy and counseling sessions, but they were in Ohio. However, within a month of moving to Columbia County, she met Kangas when she noticed a magnet on Strausser’s car. “It says ‘MRTT’ which means ‘moms run this town’ and she was like, ‘Are you a runner?’ And I’m like, ‘I am!” Strausser said with a laugh. “We started running a couple mornings a week. So, through Alison, I met the rest of these great ladies.”
10-mile runner – Katie Olson, 36, of Warren: Olson is the veteran of the group and has been running now for 14 years. She didn’t run in high school or college, but rather, got into running somewhat by accident. “After my husband and I got married, we lived in an apartment complex and I love working out, so I used to go to the little gym,” Olson said. “One day I went and there was a sign on the door that said ‘closed for maintenance’ and I’m like, ‘well … now what? I guess I’ll try this running thing.”
Olson never went back to the gym. After a week or so of running, she’d fallen in love and decided to begin looking into marathons. As it turned out, there was one on her birthday, just right around the corner. “I literally put in ‘Portland marathon’ on my computer and it was four months away to the day. I had a four month training schedule and I just said, ‘Sure! Why not?”
Olson said she was really one of the only runners she knew, so it was just her and her headphones at the time. “I needed to finish something at that point in my life,” she said. “I hadn’t finished college, I didn’t have the job that I wanted, I just needed a sense of accomplishment.”
Olson finished that first marathon, which was a feat in and of itself for a first-timer on such a short training schedule. “My husband thinks I’m crazy,” she said.
The only breaks from running Olson has taken is to “have babies.” She is the mother of three, aged nine, six, and four. Her husband is in the military and, for now, she is a stay-at-home mom. However, she just went back to school to study nursing. “My oldest daughter has a lot of medical issues and so I’ve learned a ton from her. I realized I’d been doing this for nine and a half years, so I might as well get paid to do it, and I love it,” Olson said. “It’s something that I never knew would have been there ten years ago, so it’s very exciting.”