It’s just after 9 p.m. Wednesday night inside the Jackson Dinsdale Art Center.
Brian Corr is cleaning the glass blowing studio.
Francisco Arevalo swipes his phone screen on a couch in the entry way.
Casey Molifua has his legs hanging over a chair, his back flat on a yoga mat, head on a pillow, hoodie over his eyes.
The three men just completed their 16th lap around Heartwell Park, located just across Elm Avenue from the JDAC on Hastings College’s campus.
The quiet is setting in. Action has slowed down considerably as the night begins.
The foot traffic, except for their own every 45 minutes or so, is at a halt.
There are eight miles left on their 24-hour, 24-mile pseudo marathon.
Rest is a necessity. Energy is lacking. Mental fortitude wavering.
“I don’t even know what number we’re on,” Corr tells the group. “At this point, I’m just waiting for 5 a.m.”
That’s when the final lap will take place and the group can succumb to their bodies’ needs.
There’s pain — substantial pain. The feet. The hamstrings. The quads. The knees. The hips.
Running form is taking a severe hit.
Corr’s right leg is covered in KT Tape, designed to relieve pain while keeping muscles active and recovering. His calf has had a stab since Mile 1.
Along with his body, his Garmin watch is telling him to quit. The device’s recovery score reads a 3. That’s on a scale of 1-100 with 80 or higher meaning the body is good to train.
Arevalo is wincing, but he’s the seasoned veteran. A former soccer captain who has trained for and run multiple long distance running events. He has paced every lap.
Molifua can’t think of anything he’s ever done in his life more physically taxing.
“We’re in a dogfight,” Molifua said.
It was Corr’s idea.
He and Molifua had discussed challenging themselves in each quarter of 2022.
Their first thought was joining in on the March 5 worldwide “4x4x48,” an event conceptualized by former Navy SEAL David Goggins where participants run four miles every four hours for 48 hours.
Molifua, who had never truly considered running for distance, decided it to be farfetched.
Corr compromised with running one mile every hour for 24 hours.
Easy enough, right?
“I can run a mile,” Molifua said.
How about for charity?
Molifua thought locally.
Corr suggested fundraising for the college’s Mikaelah Daneen Molifua Memorial Scholarship, which benefits “student-athletes with financial need and who showcase an exceptional spirit and enthusiasm for Bronco athletics.”
Mikaelah Molifua, Casey’s younger sister, passed away June 26, 2020, during a bout with stage 4 ovarian cancer. She was 24.
It was her second battle with cancer after surviving a Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis as an 18-year-old.
Mikaelah was a student-athlete at Hastings College and later coached the Broncos’ cheer and dance teams.
The school announced the scholarship in her honor in September 2020.
Thus became the event’s namesake: “Miles for Mik.”
Remembering Mikaelah Molifua, a light in the Hastings College community, with a 24-hour fundraising run to provide student aid for a student-athlete who embodies her qualities.
Casey Molifua, an instructor of physical education and human performance, and Corr approached the Hastings College Foundation and office of marketing and communications for promotional help.
Molly Johnsen and Ross Struss provided the assistance in setting goals and scheduling events within the main event.
There was a glassblowing demonstration midday, a discussion with sociology professor Jesse Weiss, and the recording of two podcast episodes for “The Unknown” podcast.
The Instagram stories were daily starting in December.
Casey Molifua running down the streets of Hastings. Black and white filter. Motivational words either typed or spoken. Posted at 4 a.m.
Wind, snow, below zero. Didn’t matter.
He averaged 8-10 miles a week before hurting his foot in February.
Corr, an assistant professor of art specializing in glass, opted for trail runs.
As much as it was physical training, it was more mental.
“I knew there was going to be a point where I was going to break,” Molifua said.
“It was a rude awakening.”
‘Embrace the suck’
At first it was easy. One mile down, two miles, three ...
The sunny-and-70 day kept spirits high, each lap comfortable.
“The first five miles were fun,” Molifua said in retrospect Friday morning. “We’d go run a mile, we’d break out the journals, music was flowing. Got an Art Bar coffee, we’re just kind of shooting the breeze.
“Mile 8, 9, 10, OK, calves are starting to burn a little bit. It’s like you’re in the middle of the workout and feeling that pump.
“Then you’re in Mile 12 — halfway in — and we weren’t really saying anything... Miles 12 through 24 were all about grit, fortitude, discipline.”
That’s when Molifua & Co. had to “embrace the suck.”
The mental walls closed in. The laps became longer. Goals shorter.
In the late night hours, Molifua heeded advice from a good friend along for the ride.
“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”
That equated to advancing one light pole to the next on the streets of Heartwell Park as the miles accrued.
Molifua didn’t want to walk a single mile. His body instructed him otherwise.
His will to finish the journey one way or the other, though, never wavered.
“Mikaelah’s last surgery was 16 hours,” Casey said. “I was 12 hours in and she was still on the table for four hours. I can show up for another mile.”
A wide web
Donations came from 142 different people across 16 states.
Contributions from the event’s Feb. 1 announcement to the end of the 24 hours Thursday morning at 6 a.m. totaled $11,565. The initial fundraising goal was $5,000.
Four people competed the entire 24 miles in 24 hours. Molifua, Corr and Arevalo’s individual mileages were closer to 28 with the lap distance at Heartwell Park (1.15 miles).
Many others chipped in a mile here or a few there. Some even 12 or 15 miles.
“I think there were 10 people who got over 12 miles,” Molifua said.
That includes women’s wrestler Kimberly Pollak (15 miles), the first-ever recipient of the Mikaelah Daneen Molifua Memorial Scholarship.
“She emailed us saying she’d been thinking about putting in some hours and she’d been hearing all these great things about Mikaelah,” Molifua said. “Even though she’s never met her, she wanted to pay her respects.”
That was true, too, for Corr and Arevalo, who only knew Mikaelah through her brother.
“If she was alive, she’d be right next to us,” Casey said. “She would have loved to do something like this because she liked the challenge and she answered the bell when it came to challenges that life throws at us.
“You could say her deck had more bad cards being a two-time cancer survivor before the age of 25, but she just kept showing up. She had a warrior’s mentality.”
Molifua’s Instagram story Wednesday and Thursday was full of his sharing of friends, family and strangers walking, biking, running, etc., with the hashtag #MilesForMik.
“Her community was much deeper than I can even fathom,” Casey said of his sister. “You look at how much impact you can actually have on somebody, I think this is proof in the pudding.”