Ultramarathon-running pastor runs first race in Midstate since mystery disability

What looked like a normal 5K on the outside Sunday has a complicated back story. The purpose of the run was to raise money to support international efforts for a church, but it meant more than that to church members, and to the guy who leads them.

Early Sunday morning dozens of runners got themselves registered and pinned paper numbers on their shirts as part of the U.S. Christian and Missionary Alliance, a nationwide denomination covering about 2,000 churches.

Lacing up with members of Daybreak Church in Mechanicsburg was the national head of the group.

“When you see the leader of your denomination being willing to come out and participate with you, it really makes you understand his devotion and his commitment,” said Scott Biggs, a church member.

John Stumbo, president of the Alliance, as it’s known, started preaching here in the Midstate — “York County, Hellam Township,” he says — before he moved out west.

By 47, Stumbo was running ultra-marathons in Oregon. Then something changed.

Stumbo’s body broke down. He couldn’t walk; he couldn’t swallow; doctors couldn’t tell him why.

“To suddenly be disabled in such a rapid period of time, with no reason behind it,” he said, “was disorienting.”

Stumbo was hospitalized for months, then confined to a wheelchair for a year and a half. Doctors said he wouldn’t walk again.

That was seven years ago.

Sunday was his first race since his undiagnosed disability.

“I used to be running seven-minute miles, and today I hope to do a 10 or an 11,” Stumbo said.

Surrounded by other runners, the preacher took his first public steps toward recovery.

“You know, first you’re nervous,” said Jennifer Jacobs, another Daybreak member. “Is he going to be able to it?”

Minutes ticked away, as others crossed the finish line.

And then, about 35 minutes in, John Stumbo rounded the final corner.

“He may have thought that he would never do that again,” said Jacobs, whose daughter crossed the finish line with Stumbo. “And here he is. He’s not only healthy, but he’s able to do something that he found joy in before.”

“I think it’s incredible that he can come from where he came from with this illness, and that he can do this 5K and complete it today,” added Biggs.

Even though he’s had help, Stumbo said he had to take responsibility for his own healing journey.

“It was better than it should have been,” he said after the race.

Even a journey that long starts with that first step. Or, rather, a 5K’s worth of steps.

“When you’ve been flat on your back, or in a wheelchair, and get to be on your feet and legs again,” he said, “you better not take it for granted.”

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