Why I Race

November 9, 2012 Devotion  5 comments

I am a long-distance triathlete. I prefer the longer, moderately paced events with huge crowds and ceremony. Ironman races are the best, filled with super-fit athletes, the best of the best with an “I can do anything” mindset.

When a friend of mine told me she knew an Ironman triathlete who was dying of cancer and asked if I could drop by his house to pray for him, I didn’t hesitate. I called Tom’s house, spoke with his wife, Carol, and dropped by that afternoon. When Carol walked me back to the bedroom I noticed a framed plaque — a photo of Tom on his bike smiling — and, next to it, his Ironman race medal.  But when I walked into the bedroom I found a small, frail, drugged and propped up man in a T-shirt and baseball cap.

We chatted casually, about the weather, the church I pastored, family stuff, but what was eating at me was that photo in the hallway. I finally took a breath and asked the burning question: “Tom, you did the Ironman. You were at the height of personal fitness, a physically, fine-tuned machine, and now this cancer has eaten your body away. How do you muster up the courage to face another day as this body you mastered now has control over you?”

I still remember the look of determination in his eyes as he struggled to sober up enough through the pain meds to say it exactly the way he wanted. “Dan, without a doubt, as long as I live, I will stand on the top of this roof and shout it from the top of my lungs …,” and pounding his fist into the pillow in front of him said, “It is my faith in Jesus Christ. My faith in Jesus Christ!”

Tears still well up in my eyes every time I think of this; writing this now is no exception. I committed that day to swing by Tom’s every other afternoon to pray and encourage him, hoping for a change in his condition. Oddly, it seemed each time I walked away from his room I was the one changed. A couple of weeks later I got a call that Tom was rushed to the hospital. I quickly made my way to Desert Regional and found Tom with Carol at his side.  Tom’s breathing was very labored, the kind that sounds like fear and pain. Carol and I began to pray, and Tom started to calm down into a quiet slump. Now unable to talk, he just stared forward and occasionally nodded. The next day, a phone call came that Tom had left the body and his family was on their way. When I arrived at the hospital, I found Tom’s radiant wife, Carol, standing beside his slumped-over shell.

“Dan, you’re not going to believe what happened,” Carol said, still holding Tom’s hand. “Remember last night how he was breathing?” I nodded. “He started doing it again. So I tried praying but it was getting worse so I panicked and ran to the nurses’ station but there wasn’t anyone there. So, as I ran back to the room I could hear the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans TV show playing somewhere down the hall.” What you need to know here is most of the days I visited Tom were spent talking about Roy, Hopalong Cassidy and old western cowboy stuff. Tom was a fan in the sense of fanatic! Carol continued, “I followed the sound until I came to the room to ask what channel it was on. Then I came in here and turned it up as loud as I could. Soon, he started to calm down and it was really getting to him. I could tell he was listening. So I just sat here, stroking his hair and holding his hand, and we just watched the TV show together. Then they started singing “Git Along Little Dogie,”  a song about moving on to a new home and sometime during the song I realized Tom wasn’t breathing. It was as if God was saying to Tom,  ‘It’s okay, come home now.’ So he did.” Both of us sat there with tears in our eyes, but happy for Tom that there was no more pain.

A couple of days later I conducted the memorial service for Tom. People from all over southern California came — many triathletes and runners. During the service I recalled my first time watching the Ironman race on television and seeing the female leader collapse just 500 meters from the finish line, to eventually get up and walk across the finish in fourth place. Similarly for Tom, the end wasn’t what was imagined along the way. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t right, it wasn’t what anyone expected. But with dignity and grace, step by step he crossed the finish into the arms of the ones waiting on the other side.

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me, the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing.”  2 Timothy 4:7-8 (NLT)

This so inspired me and Tom’s friends so encouraged me. Today, I race.

In this life — what some of the writers of the New Testament refer to as a race — there are many things that can and will go wrong. Our ability to adjust and keep our eye on the finish is crucial to the outcome. We set goals, we plan, we strive to these ends and this makes it ours — different for you and different for me. For everyone who crosses the line there will be a tale of how the race went. If you listen carefully you will hear the echoes of life itself.

These echoes ping from near and distant places. In far away places, though, not everyone who races gets the same opportunities. While some have the resources for proper equipment, plentiful nutrition and professional coaching, most go without. Compassion International recognizes this disparity. In the same way a relationship can make such a life-changing difference, like Tom did for me, Compassion uses personal partnerships to bring together those who can do anything with those who have the greatest need — children. Compassion strives to equip every child it touches with proper nutrition and holistic development that leads them out of poverty. Your partnership can make a big difference in the life of a child. Please consider joining with Team Compassion and you might just find you’re the one walking away being changed.

5 comments to Why I Race

  • Wow. Thanks for sharing that. I am on a similar quest, and I would like to engage with Ironman faith

    • Dan says:

      hey Fred… thanks for checking in! IMFaith is a journey and I’m happy to share it with you.

  • This story grips my heart. Thanks so much for taking the time to share his story…and yours.

    • Dan says:

      Thanks Chance… it’s amazing to think these small connections that come and go almost without a notice in the overall scheme of life can have such profound implications and redirect you for the rest of your life as my few short weeks with Tom did for me. Oddly, we never talked about me practically being a triathlete and what that could ever become.

  • […] unexpectedly in the midst of dozens of talented runners and triathletes at the memorial service for Tom, I was welcomed into a community where possibilities are assumed and obstacles a temptation. When […]

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