The Venture Freedom Run from NYC to DC Changed Heather Utzman’s Life.
In this interview we talked to Heather Utzman from Bartlesville, Oklahoma about a miraculous injury healing, overcoming doubt and fear, and having her life be “wrecked in the most beautiful way,” through the Venture Freedom Run Tour in summer 2018.
First, give us some background on yourself and how you heard about Venture?
Heather: I work at Oklahoma Wesleyan University as the Assistant of University Relations. I heard about Venture from my supervisor Marci Piper (who also did the tour) who had connected with Venture when they came to our campus to speak. Our university is very active when it comes to causes around preventing human trafficking and we have our own movement on campus that seeks to bring awareness and hope to modern-day slavery issues. We partnered with Venture for some runs and did some programs where students could “opt out” of their meal plans and donate the proceeds.
How did you end up on a Tour and how did you pick the Freedom Run?
Heather: I wanted to do a tour, but the timing never seemed right. I was dealing with some injuries and had almost decided to put up my running shoes. Then out of nowhere, my friend asked me to commit to the Freedom Run from NYC to DC with her and I knew I had to say yes. I immediately went out for a run, hesitant about my abilities, and told God “I’m 100 percent in, but I need Your help, I can’t make this on my own”. I felt His presence during that run, and I have been running pain-free since!
What were your fears about doing a tour?
Heather: Primarily it was the doubt, “can I physically do this?” I didn’t know what my body could handle, and I had never done extensive training. Also, Oklahoma in the summer is really hot, and I worried about training and running 3-4 times a day in that heat and what it would do to my body.
How did you train? 75 miles in five days is some serious distance!
Heather: Venture prepared us by giving us a training plan. Since you run multiple times a day on tour we tried to train that way too. I ran outside and used the treadmill. We mixed running with cross training.
What did people say when you told them you were going to run 75 miles in five days to help prevent victims of human trafficking?
Heather: (Laughing) some people thought I was crazy and insane, but many people were really proud to be able to sponsor me. It was so awesome to share with people who had no idea that human trafficking is an issue. God opened up so many opportunities to share about what Venture and other organizations are doing. Many people think that human trafficking is just a third world issue, but they have no idea that it’s all around us. I also went to a family reunion while I was training for the tour and got to share with my broader family about what I was doing. A bunch of extended family got excited, sponsored me and followed along with my progress on tour. In some ways it brought me closer to family I didn’t know that well!
Some people get nervous about securing sponsors and raising money for the tour. How was your experience?
I was a little nervous, I’m not one to ask for money, but I prayed for God to open doors. I posted to social media and Venture has a sponsorship page that you can send out to friends and family. The money just came in, and people were genuinely excited to sponsor me. I figured if God gave me the call to go, I would trust Him to provide, and He did!
What was the biggest surprise from your experience?
Heather: It was that the experience wrecked my life in the most beautiful way. I didn’t think it would impact my life that much, but it truly changed my world. I don’t want to go back to who I was. The physical sacrifice of running day after day through hills, miles and the heat was so hard, but it was nothing compared to the suffering of those in slavery. Every time I wanted to quit, I remembered them and why I was running. The experience changed my outlook on life and I no longer take my life for granted.
What would you like to tell other people who are curious about doing a tour but haven’t signed up yet?
Heather: Just do it – sometimes you just have to jump and take that leap of faith. I was afraid to do it but knowing what I know now, I wish I would have done it sooner.
What does the future look like for you?