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Saying “YES”: The world’s longest race began in Africa and ends in Iowa


raine-with-his-bikesWhile serving two weeks in poverty-stricken South Africa, Bill Raine saw children dying at such a high rate that graves were being mass produced, dug before anyone knew who would be buried there. Some graves garnered headstones, but most were set apart by something else.

“In Africa, when they bury a child, they put dirt on him or her — and it’s just a mound of dirt — and then they put the child’s favorite toys on top of the grave,” he said.

The toys serve as makeshift gravestones, the only thing setting individual graves apart from the other small piles of red African clay.

“And there was one grave in particular of a pretty young child,” Raine remembers. “And on top was a 7-Up bottle, tipped upside down, in the dirt. And that was the child’s toy. That’s what the child had.”

On the long flight home, Raine couldn’t shake the image of the empty soda bottle, an item that’s barely worth a nickel in the United States.

Prep Iowa

“Can I do more?” he wondered. “Should I do more?”

His mind raced between the bottle, stuck in the red pile of clay, and the unending misery he’d seen.

“Yes,” he thought to himself. “You just have to do something.”

bill-raine-with-wife-jillWhen he landed, Raine began putting his “yes” into action. Along with his wife, Jill, and others, he went to work building Relay Iowa.

“It’s the world’s longest relay,” Raine says about the 339-mile route that darts across the state from Sioux City to Dubuque. In it, teams of four to 12 competitors each run a leg that consists of approximately five miles. Runners may run as many legs as they can handle. Altogether it takes approximately a weekend to complete.

He says people feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction from helping a worthy cause.

“And when else do you get a chance to run at 3 in the morning, overnight, in the middle of nowhere and through the whole state?” Raine asks. “It creates lasting memories. Next year, we’re hoping for 50 teams.”

Relay Iowa is a non-profit entity that exists for the sole purpose of raising money for Restoring Hope International, an orphanage in South Africa.

The race’s goal each year is to raise money for shelters that house six children each. The group dedicated two such homes this year — one for the relay and one in honor of Jill, who passed away in 2015 after a battle with breast cancer.

As Relay Iowa came to a close in 2015, and as Jill lay sick in bed, Raine entered to tell her that the race was complete, and that everyone was OK, and that everything had turned out well.

“She just smiled,” said Raine. “And then she said, ‘Good job.’ ”

Jill’s race was complete. Later that night she passed on. Her legacy lives on in her children, her love for her husband, and in “Jill’s house,” a brick home for six orphans in Welkom, South Africa.

Visit for more information on the world’s longest relay run. ♦

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