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TMV making an unmistakable splash as Chicago Marathon’s top charity

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Updated: November 1, 2012 6:38AM

Running the streets of Chicago to raise money to build clean-water projects in Africa is a disconnect of thousands of miles on one level, yet Team World Vision married the concepts so well that it quickly has become the pre-eminent charity in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

TWV expects to send 1,700 marathoners, nearly 80 percent first-timers, to the line when the marathon starts in Grant Park on Oct. 7. That’s nearly double the next-closest charity, the American Cancer Society.

‘‘We owe everything to Bank of American Chicago Marathon,’’ said Rusty Funk, the Chicago-area director for TWV. ‘‘They treat charities better than any other marathon in the world.’’

Funk’s story is instructive.

‘‘In January 2008, my buddy challenged me to run the marathon,’’ said Funk, who graduated from Olivet Nazarene in 2007 and had been working for Breakthrough Urban Ministries on Chicago’s West Side. That buddy was Michael Chitwood, who founded TWV in 2005. TWV sent 95 to the line for its first Chicago marathon. By the time Funk ran his first in 2008, TWV had maxed at 800.

‘‘I finished a horrific first race,’’ Funk said. ‘‘But I had a good time. Two weeks later, I realized I wanted to do it at least one time a year. It was very rewarding physically, spiritually and emotionally.’’

He was not alone in that feeling, some of which comes from the charity aspect. Last year, those 800 runners in Chicago raised nearly $1.5  million. This year, the overall goal for the 1,700 is $3 million.

TWV, a part of World Vision, one of the top-rated charitable organizations, calculates it can give a person clean water for a lifetime for $50. TWV has no minimum for raising funds, but the general hope is that each runner earns $50 a mile, or $1,310 for the 26.2 miles.

‘‘We focus on non-runners,’’ Funk said. ‘‘People out there assume they can’t run a marathon. Most of the time it is because no one has asked them. And they assume they can’t.’’

TWV has been changing that by the hundreds. In 2009, it expanded out to 12 other events and six cities.

On the running side, TWV has a solid, sensible approach. It builds teams from companies, schools, community centers or churches. With a team, the first-timer has somebody to talk to about the first bum knee or sore foot. And the runners share a communal training.

‘‘With the first-time marathoner, you need that personal touch,’’ Funk said.

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