Three religious leaders at the University of Pennsylvania are teaming up to raise money for charity through competing in a triathlon.
A Christian minister, a Muslim chaplain and a Jewish rabbi are competing in a triathlon later this month.
While that may sound like the beginning of a bad joke, three religious leaders from the University of Pennsylvania are joining together to bike, swim and run in the Johnson & Johnson TriRock Philadelphia Triathlon June 28 — and raise money in the process.
Chaz Howard, Penn’s university chaplain, will complete the swimming portion (0.9 miles) while Kameelah Rashad, Interfaith Fellow and campus minister to the university’s Muslim community, will run 6.2 miles and Josh Bolton, senior Jewish educator of the Jewish Renaissance at Penn Hillel, will bike for 24.8 miles.
“We kind of marveled at how special it was that three people of different faiths and traditions would come together and do this,” said Howard.
The three have been friends at Penn for many years — Howard and Rashad were actually members of the university’s Class of 2000. After Rashad attended a faith summit about mental health services and faith-based partnerships, she suggested using the race as a means of raising money and erasing the stigma around mental health and well-being. Howard and Bolton were all for it.
Surrounded by students who often fall victim to pressure from schoolwork, internships and extracurricular activities, the trio chose to raise money for various mental health and well-being organizations. Rashad’s goal is to create and normalize conversation about mental health.
“This is something that we want the community to embrace as something we really need to pay attention to,” Rashad said.
They hope to raise $3,000 leading up to the event through their page on crowdrise.com, with the goal of being able to give $1,000 each to their organizations of choice: Jewish Family and Children’s Service, ServiceSpace and The Muslim Wellness Foundation.
“I hope that people can be inspired by different types of people working together and how good it is for people like this to dwell together; I think that’s beautiful,” Howard said. “To run, bike and swim for a cause is a cool message.”
This is Bolton and Rashad’s first race in this capacity, but not Howard’s. After tearing his ACL last spring, Howard was ready to dive back into the competition and has prepared for the event through swimming — which he says is a prayerful experience — and readying his mind as well as his body.
Rashad was surprised to learn they were not doing the shorter course of the race as she thought, which was a 5K rather than a 10K — a challenge under normal circumstances, but even moreso, considering she will be running while fasting for the Muslim holiday of Ramadan — and started training for her much longer run three months ago. She challenged herself to a six-week herbal cleanse as well, giving up dairy, caffeine and carbohydrates.
“What I noticed was how we’re always talking to our students about balancing work and physical health, so I actually have to practice what I preach,” she said with a laugh.
Bolton has been preparing for his biking segment the usual ways: walking his 7-month old up and down the stairs to build leg strength, staring meditatively at his bike and talking about the event a lot, “hoping that will help me somehow.”
Focusing on the pastoral needs of students is a major component to working as a religious leader on campus, Bolton said. Mental health is a common denominator for students of all religious backgrounds, he added, which is why the group felt it was an important cause to raise awareness for.
“We wanted to make a statement,” he said, “that folks from different religions and different racial backgrounds can find common ground enough to stand on and say the message is love, the message is togetherness, the message is finding a path based on commonalities, common principals and mutual respect.”
Focusing on the differences between people is one way the message of interfaith cooperation and commitment to the cause across all communities can get lost, Rashad said.
“We’re friends, we’re parents, we work hard at what we do,” she explained. “Those are the things that I think can become lost in just highlighting how were different. But we’re going to do the best we can, and we’re going to support each other and that’s something all communities can aspire to.”
The three are excited to raise awareness about the cause and cheer each other on — or perhaps to just get some good-natured dirt on each other for the future.
“I’m looking forward to seeing Chaz get out of the water in just a Speedo,” Bolton said.
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