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Student dribbles basketball in race to raise awareness for charity

April 5, 2012 : Olivia Witherite

While many runners entered the Raleigh (N.C.) Rocks Half Marathon on April 1 with determination to set a personal record or to just finish the race, Liberty University sophomore Spencer Leeds entered with a basketball in hand.

Leeds dribbled the ball while running the entire 13.1 miles to raise awareness for Compassion International through the nonprofit organization Dribble the World.

Dribble the World works to promote a nonprofit of the runner’s choice. Leeds and his sister co-sponsor a child from Uganda through Compassion International, so the charity was a natural choice. The child advocacy ministry helps more than 1.2 million children in 26 countries.

“The first time I heard about them [Compassion International] was the Tenth Avenue North concert (at Liberty) last year. Without them, I never would have known about it. So, then I got involved, and it’s a great ministry,” Leeds said.

To participate through Dribble the World, runners can choose any race, as long as they dribble a basketball the entire way.

Leeds first heard of that organization during his sophomore year of high school when he met its founder.

“I did a missions trip with my youth pastor, and he knew the guy who started Dribble the World,” Leeds said. “His name is Dan Occhiogrosso. … I was like, ‘Okay, well running’s kind of cool,’ but it wasn’t fun. But then I picked up a basketball and I remembered ‘Occhi,’ and it became fun. “

While Leeds had never run more than three miles at a time and claimed that he’s “not a runner,” he began training in November.

Leeds, a business major and music minor, works for Liberty’s technical production department and is on the sound crew for large and small events, including convocation (held three times a week), campus church and special events. After working at Coffeehouse until 6 a.m. on Saturday, Leeds drove straight to North Carolina, and was toeing the starting line by 7 a.m. on Sunday. Despite battling knee problems, Leeds finished with a time of one hour, 52 minutes.

“It doesn’t matter the time,” Leeds said. “Just as long as you’re dribbling a basketball, people see it’s still an awareness factor.”

During and after the race, Leeds was able to promote Dribble the World and Compassion, as curious runners and spectators asked him why he was dribbling a ball.

“I started dribbling, and people are patting me on the shoulder, telling me ‘good job,’” Leeds said. “So, I got to talk to at least five (runners) during the race. And, after, people kept coming to me.”

He also was able to talk about Liberty during the race.

“In the same way as you’re raising money for Compassion, they’re asking you where you’re from, and you say ‘Liberty,’” Leeds said. “(Spectators) ask you questions, they are interested. It’s definitely a platform.”

Leeds trained for the half marathon around Liberty’s campus with and without a basketball. On campus, he said he would get strange looks while running around the sidewalks.

“I’d be dribbling, and someone thinks they’re funny and start acting like they’re playing defense,” he said.

He often wore his Dribble the World shirt around campus to raise awareness, and hopes to see more Liberty students get involved with the project. Upon completing the race, he is now sending out letters to raise monetary support for Compassion.

Originally, Leeds thought the race in Raleigh would be his first and last, but now he hopes to participate in another race for Dribble the World, possibly as soon as this summer.