As I began the biking part of the triathlon my mind went back to the first time I participated in an organized challenge of this type. It was a 10 K run on the Fourth of July. I remember feeling nervous and excited as I joined all the other athletes that summer morning in 1992. There was great energy, anticipation, and camaraderie in the air. The starting gun sounded. I moved forward with the crowd, giving it all I had. One after the other, each person in the group sped past me until I was looking at every runner from behind. Up ahead there was a bend in the road. I jogged on and watched as the crowd ahead of me disappeared around the corner. That was the last I saw of my “comrades.” I felt entirely alone. During the rest of the race I never saw another runner. My one and only running partner that day was the Lord.
Much of the time I wondered if I was really on the route. Then I would come upon the water station hosted by “the Culligan Man.” The volunteer would assure me that I was on the right track, wish me well, and then close up shop. I never quit running and I never quit praying. The last couple of miles I actually ran along the parade route, along side a parade that was in full swing. The words come to mind, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” I wasn’t beating anyone so I might as well join the parade.
I had never actually run six miles in my life. Three miles was my top run in preparation. By mile five I was really beyond myself. I continued to ask for the strength to finish. I kept putting one foot in front of the other. I’m sure to the onlookers it seemed like I was nearly jogging in place. Somewhere between a float passing by and the striking up the next band I realized that I had no idea where the race ended. I kept jogging. Then suddenly out of the crowd appeared two of my teenage children. “Yea Mom! You can do it!” My greeting to them was far from characteristic. I managed to pant out “Where’s the end of the ‘darn’ race’?” (Language has been revised to protect this Grandma) “Mom!!!” They laughed. I think they were as shocked as I was.
I crossed the finish line about forty minutes after everyone else. The fruit was gone. The tee shirts were gone. Most of the people had gone off to watch the parade with their families. The thing that was not gone and that lives on with me to this day is what it felt like to do something hard with next to no human support. I came away that day with a greater witness that with God nothing is impossible.
I’ve come a long way in the last 17 years and I’m very grateful. During Triathlon 2009 I wasn’t alone or without encouragement from other participants for even a minute. At the end of each lap, during the swim, a young girl assigned to my lane announced how many laps had done and cheered me on. As I swam to the other end, there were my kids, waiting their turn to swim and chiming out, “You’re doing it Mom!”
The fellowship didn’t end with the official volunteers and my family. The participants themselves were more than willing to encourage this perfect stranger. The bike section was accomplished in two five-mile loops and the run in two mile and a half loops. If you were slow, and I was, you met the same faster racers several times as they literally ran circles around you. My personal favorite was the young fellow who passed me several times and reminded me not only that I wasn’t alone, but that I was doing something kind of cool “for my age.” Four times he passed me and shouted out, “Ata Girl!” It wasn’t just the perfect strangers who biked and ran circles around me. My own kids passed me coming and going. As each one saw me in the distance, coming toward them, a hand would reach out and meet mine with a slap that said “don’t give up” mom! It’s a great thing to watch your kids accomplish something challenging, on purpose, together! True fellowship is not competitive; it’s compassionate.
As I finished the Triathlon I had to run past all the racers that had completed the experience well before me, including my children. I ran through the finish line and received cheers from a large crowd (one of the benefits of coming in at the tail end) and hugs from my children (one of the benefits of being the mom). I didn’t have any sense that I was being congratulated by people who had beaten me in a race but by people who had taught me how to race.
As I look back today on my first and now my last athletic experience I see that each of these events taught me something important. In my first race, 17 years ago, I discovered that with God alone, I can do hard things. In this last race I was reminded that the Lord often surrounds us with fellow travelers. Whether He gifts us with His very personal company or with an army of mortal encouragers we are never ever required to go it alone!
By Nannette W.
Posted Saturday, April 25, 2009
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