A presentation at his church inspired Robert Gauthier to come home and tell his wife, "I just signed up for a marathon."

He'd never really run before and didn't even own a pair of running shoes.

But later that day, he started training. 

"I went out under the cover of darkness because i didn't want anyone to see," he remembered. "I couldn't even run for 20 seconds."

Since then, the 43-year-old Crystal Lake man has run four marathons and at least a half dozen half-marathons. On Nov. 3, he'll take on the New York City marathon as a member of Team World Vision. 

The agency is the one that inspired him from the beginning, when he first ran for World Vision's cause to bring clean water, sanitation and hygiene to communities in Africa.

Selected to be part of a 35-member New York City marathon team, Gauthier raised money for child protection and human trafficking awareness. Team World Vision puts together groups of runners across the country to fund various projects around the world. 

This is the first time the agency has taken on the child protection cause.

It's one that has personal meaning for Gauthier and his wife, Donna, who is involved in ministries at the couple's church, Willow Crystal Lake. 

When Robert heard of the invite to run the marathon, he was in New York City on a work trip. He works for the 7-Eleven franchise and was there awaiting indictments on several franchise owners who were trafficking in illegal aliens to work in their stores.

He said he felt he was meant to run the New York race.

"I feel like part of the training and the pain that goes in to getting ready for a marathon helps remind me of the struggles that these people we're trying to help go through on a daily basis," he said.

Gauthier raised about $5,000 for the cause. World Vision has child protection programs in four countries, with plans to expand to three more.

Right now, the group works to reduce children's trafficking for sex and labor in Bangladesh and prevent child sexual abuse and exploitation in Cambodia. 

In Kenya, World Vision helps girls at risk for female genital mutilation and early marriage. And children are protected from exploitation, abuse and neglect in Mozambique.

"To hear that kind of stuff actually goes on in the world, that blows my mind," Gauthier said.

Since training for and running his first marathon, the 2010 Chicago Marathon, Gauthier has lost about 60 pounds and lowered his blood pressure and cholesterol. He'd like to run this latest marathon in four hours, besting his personal best of 4 hours, 18 minutes.

The health benefits have changed his life, he said, but running for a cause also has given him new perspective.

He's been asked why he runs instead of simply writing a check.

"That would be too easy," he said.

He doesn't necessarily enjoy running that much, but he still knows he's going to run a race every year.

"It's not about the race," he said. "It's about creating awareness. A big part of it is the fundraising. Every person I have to ask is a person I can tell my story to and the reason why we run the races and even potentially get them involved in signing up to do a race."

By JAMI KUNZER - jkunzer@shawmedia.com