Coach and Biology Teacher Makes the World a Better Place

by | Mar 2024

PLENTY OF us take clean water for granted, yet about 1 billion people across the world have zero access to it. Most Americans never give it a second thought, as it flows abundantly from our lakes, streams, rivers, faucets, and garden hoses. But according to Run4Water, a nonprofit that provides potable drinking water to those without access, 4,000 children die every day from waterborne illnesses, and 3,575,000 people die each year. 

In places like sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America, water supplies drastically affect health, education, and poverty. Women and children spend up to three hours daily going to the closest swamp, pond, or trickle of muddy water to fill a 40-pound jug and haul it home. They must do this multiple times, so this chore replaces education as a priority. This unfiltered water, gathered where animals graze and bathe, is riddled with disease and makes entire villages ill. That’s why Run4Water “runs” to help. 

Run4Water currently has outreach programs in Uganda, Nicaragua, Honduras, Haiti, Kenya, and East Tennessee near our border with Virginia. According to the 2020 census, Sneedville, Tennessee has a population of about 1,200 and has one of the lowest per capita incomes in the entire country. Since 2010, Run4Water has provided thousands of Thanksgiving meals, repaired dilapidated homes, and volunteers installed gutters to catch rain for residents to purify for drinking and cooking. Volunteers have also installed well pumps, ensuring fellow Tennesseans have access to drinking water. The organization even provided a summer camp that ministered to 100 local children.

Greg Armstrong is a teacher and cross-country coach at Friendship Christian School (FCS). Greg lives on a Century Farm that has been in his family since the Revolutionary War, located alongside the Cumberland River. This generational access to an abundance of wildlife and clean water provided the foundation for Greg’s love of nature. While growing up, Greg’s father was an avid runner, passing the passion on to his son. Merging his love of nature and the desire to be the “hands and feet of Jesus,” Greg officially began Run4Water in 2015 after competing in his first U.S. ultramarathon. He has since qualified and competed in both 2015 and 2019.

“I enjoy running long distances as a way to test my body and mind,” said Greg. “I use running as a spiritual discipline and means to meditate, pray, and to raise awareness for those lacking clean water in our world. I strive to run for a greater purpose than self. My faith and my desire to be more of a contributor to the world than a consumer of it motivated me to start Run4Water. Using my talents and passion to help another soul is where I found my true and genuine purpose.”

As a cross-country coach and biology teacher of 20 years, Greg says his greatest achievements aren’t the marathons. They are the relationships he’s formed, starting with his wife of 27 years, Shelley, and his two grown daughters, Anna Kate and Lily Grace. Additionally, Greg highly values the students who have sat in his classroom or joined him on the track and the friends he’s made all over the world.

“I try to exemplify strong mental character and fortitude as a running coach and outdoor guide. I encourage my students to be servant leaders through various volunteering opportunities. Recognizing the unique qualities of others helps me to motivate and guide others into a life of service and contribution.”

In October 2016, Greg took a team from Run4Water to Uganda and Kenya on a scouting trip to see if they could make a difference in the water crisis. While there, they visited a colony of lepers. Later, Greg worked with the shoe company Teva to provide sandals to this forgotten community.

“These are the most rejected, neglected, and desperate souls in the world. Most refrain from visiting and helping them because of the stigma of leprosy. I think of them often, and my heart breaks,” expressed Greg.

After he returned from Africa, Greg and his daughters were presented with another need to fill. Together, they formed 84 Days, a new ministry of Run4Water.

“I’m equally passionate about this organization. 84 Days [represents] the number of days a girl misses school when she lacks feminine hygiene products. My students at FCS lead this organization by raising awareness and funds, then travel to other countries providing reusable, sustainable products to help girls stay in school.” GN

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