What’s so cool about St. Anthony’s is that it’s open to professional and amateur triathletes. As long as you register in time, you can participate. The race website describes the event:
On race day you’ll swim through the brisk waters of Tampa Bay, bike along glimmering waterways and quiet harbors and run through picturesque neighborhoods and past cheering spectators. Race against the world’s top professional triathletes as they compete for $60,000. The event culminates with a festive waterfront awards party featuring live music, great food, cold beer and cool door prizes.Sounds pretty awesome, doesn’t it?
On race day—a glorious, breezy morning with nary a cloud in the sky—my sister and I headed back downtown to watch the race which was already in full swing. The scene crackled with excitement and anticipation.
For hours we cheered people starting and finishing the various legs of the race. During that time we observed athletes of every size, age and shape zoom, jog and hobble by. As expected, we saw plenty of ultra-fit, über-studs, but we also saw thousands of ordinary-looking thirtysomethings; “pleasantly-plump” weekend warriors; slightly sagging suburban housewives; adventurous teenagers; gray-haired grandpas; red-hatted grannies; and some courageous, but extremely overweight, first-timers.
All running the same race.
Along the course crowds encouraged the racers to keep going. Teammates urged one another on. Earlier finishers urged on slower racers. Family held signs and rang bells. At the finish line onlookers cheered as the announcer called out each and every finisher—dripping with sweat, but victorious. They did it!
Watching this massive event unfold with all the toil and emotion, on such a magnificent day, it was hard not to get choked up. I think my sister and I witnessed the scene of the day: After hours of competing, a profoundly handicapped racer headed down the final stretch of the run. With each awkward step he lumbered closer to the finish line. A swell of support arose as the crowd lining the street clapped, hooted and cheered wildly. Many an eye misted over.
Sure the race records will list the winners and top age finishers, but we witnessed that the victory in this race wasn’t reserved for the prize winners. It rested with each and every athlete who put in the months of training, and reached the finish line one stroke, one pedal rotation and one step at a time. The true victor was:
… the grandmother of six who’s faithfully run for the past twenty years.
… the 78-year-old man (the oldest in the race and once a true triathlon contender) who continues on because of his love of the sport.
… the father of three, listening for the cheers of his kids, racing to make them proud.
… the former couch potato who lost 100 pounds this year and set a goal (using up every ounce of determination and energy) to cross the finish line.
…the middle-aged mom, who after years of chasing little ones, finally had time to do something for herself.
… the cancer-survivors who now embrace the gift of good health and strong bodies.
… the teenager who put in hundreds of hours training instead of hanging out with his friends.
… all the racers who thought they never could…but did.
Every single racer who crossed the finish line shared three things in common: they signed up, they trained and they persevered to the end.
As I watched the St. Anthony’s triathlon and soaked in the experience, I was inspired, moved, thrilled, touched and challenged. I thought if an event like this can be so glorious, imagine what it will be like in heaven?
As Christians, we’re all running a race, aren’t we?
We train, we encourage one another on, we stumble, we persevere. Some speed along fleet-footed; others lumber forward one painful step after another. As awesome as the scene at the St. Anthony's was, the race we run is far more glorious, far more magnificent and far more breathtaking than any on earth. For we run not for a prize that will fade away, but toward a crown that will last forever. And the struggles we face along the way "are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all." (2 Corin. 4:17)
As the great triathlete Paul coaches, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1)
Imagine the celebration at the finish line!
The question is: Are you running the race or watching from the sidelines?