She ran track and cross country in high school, winning 18 conference championships. She was recruited by the University of Illinois to run Division I cross country and track.
“It was a great blessing,” Baliga told CNA. “I was the sixth fastest freshman in the nation in 2006 … and our teams placed eighth, sixth, and tenth in the nation my freshman through junior year. So it was a great blessing to be part of that experience, and one of the greatest and coolest things that I've done in my life.”
Baliga was sidelined by an injury her sophomore year. She said the injury forced her to slow down and honestly evaluate her life and her priorities.
“I'd never been forced to stop doing anything,” Baliga said. “I was forced to actually reflect on what I was doing, and why I was doing it, and what was the meaning behind any of this?”
She admits she wasn’t very involved in her Catholic faith at the time. She was raised Catholic, but her family wasn’t very serious about the faith. Running and academics were everything to her.
“It was who I was,” Baliga said. “I defined myself by these things.”
She did make a point in college to go to Sunday Mass, and she had made some friends in the process. Baliga started spending more time with those friends while she recovered from her injury.
“I had all this time because I couldn't run and I was spending ad nauseum hours a day running and doing running associated activities, like weight work and physical therapy,” Baliga said.
“Then they invited me on a retreat, where I had a very powerful experience. I did realize very intensely that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist.”
When Baliga fully recovered from her injury, she said she faced a crossroads.
“There was an interesting battle of the priorities of the things in my life at that point,” she said. “I originally tried to obviously get back in shape after the injury, which was a massive struggle because I was off for a long time and I'd really lost a lot of fitness.”
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“But then there's also like when I started to think about running too much, I knew my life wasn't balanced. I knew that I was kind of drawn to figure out this new place for running in my life.”
By her junior year in college, Baliga began seriously discerning religious life. She thought she would need to give up running to answer God’s calling.
“I was praying, and came to the point where I told God, ‘If you really want me to join this community, I will not run again. If this is really actually what you want, I will give up running.’” Baliga said.
“After that point, there was a lot of freedom ...And I felt like running kind of finally ... started to have a better place in my life, a more balanced place.”
Baliga joined the Franciscans of the Eucharist of Chicago, and she has been able to continue running.
“This is the beautiful witness; when I gave God running, he gave it back to me in this amazing way that I never would have dreamed that would have happened,” Baliga said.