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Dec. 27, 2007

Food run: Endurathon creator raised awareness of organics

By Ann Scholl Rinehart
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Steve Shriver ran to support organic food.
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Todd Mizener
2008 Radish Award
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Steve Shriver considers himself a “doer.” Suffice it to say, that’s an understatement. Looking for a way to promote organics, the 35-year-old Cedar Rapids man came up with the idea for the Organic Endurathon — a 260-mile run across Iowa. The event, which culminated with Earth Day on April 22, 2007, was the equivalent of running 10 marathons in 10 days.

“I wanted to do something big to promote organics,” Shriver says. “I’m passionate about it. It’s the lifestyle I live.”

Fueled entirely by certified organic food and beverages — and wearing organic and sustainable clothing — Shriver planned to run the entire distance by himself. But an Achilles tendon injury on the fifth day brought his running to a halt. Shriver called in other runners and treated the event like a relay. “It seemed like it happened for a reason,” Shriver says of his injury. “I was able to focus less on myself and my run and more on the event.”

The run started April 12 at Wheatsfield Coop in Ames and continued across Iowa. Shriver met with thousands of people along the way, including many school groups, to talk to them about organics and sustainability and to “demonstrate how organics promote enduring life, land and livelihood.” The Endurathon ended April 22 in Iowa City, where presidential candidate Barack Obama was speaking that day and met with Shriver and his crew. Shriver was able to run the final leg of the event so that, in the end, he completed the equivalent of six of the 10 marathons.

Though there are things he would do differently, looking back, Shriver says, “it was really enlightening. Yes, it was definitely a great experience.” What he learned is that most people — especially the children he met — thought that “organic” meant “natural.”

“They’re right about that, but ‘natural’ doesn’t mean ‘organic.’ ” He explains that there are no regulations surrounding the use of the word “natural;” however, there are regulations around the use of the word “organic.” Organic means products are grown and processed, from start to finish, without the use of pesticides, herbicides or other harmful chemicals. Just educating the people he met about that basic fact was gratifying, Shriver says. But he wants that message to get out to the public at large.

Why does he believe he’s the man for that job? “Organic products have really improved the quality of my life and my well-being,” he says. “I know I’m not doing harm to people, the farmers, the environment or to myself by supporting organics. It feels like the right thing to be doing.” Shriver credits his wife, Andrea, for introducing him to natural products and educating him about organic products. In the early 1990s, Andrea created the natural lip balm that would eventually lead to the formation of their Cedar Rapids-based business, Eco Lips.

When the couple first met 12 years ago, Shriver says he was 30 pounds overweight and a smoker who made regular visits to fast-food restaurants. Once he began consuming healthy foods, Shriver says he lost his addiction to nicotine and the excess weight without exercising. He also became a vegetarian, which he believes increased his metabolism naturally. He also became an athlete. In addition to running, he is a rock climber, ice climber, mountaineer and occasional triathlete. In 2003 he ran 52 miles from Cedar Falls to Cedar Rapids in less than nine hours to raise money and awareness for Iowa’s homeless.

Shriver says he wants to inspire others to live a healthy lifestyle, just as his wife inspired him. As for the “doer” aspect of his personality, Shriver credits his mother, who raised him and was always supportive of him. “She reaffirmed that anything is possible and that I’m capable of doing whatever I want to do. That snowballed into living my life to the fullest, climbing mountains around the world and maybe doing things most people don’t get to do.”

While Shriver is not planning a second Endurathon, he’s discovered his efforts have had a ripple effect. He has had inquiries from people throughout the U.S. who plan to use his Organic Endurathon as a model for their own.

Why go organic? Read Steve Shriver’s reasons in Resources.

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