June 16, 2009

In Training

When I visited my sister in St. Petersburg in April my visit coincided with a world-famous athletic event taking place there: the St. Anthony’s Triathlon. St. Anthony’s, one of the largest and most competitive Olympic-distance triathlons in the United States, hosts some of the world’s strongest and most elite professional athletes. This year, over 4000 athletes from 45 states and 18 countries participated.

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, ├╝ber-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?

16 comments:

Sassy Granny ... said...

Good question! It's all about getting in the game, even if you're the cheerleader on the sidelines.

Don't you just love intentional living?!

Hugs,
Kathleen

Terri Tiffany said...

You choked me up with this one! I hope I'm runnign the race! I sure am trying as hard as I can cause I want to finish!

Carmen said...

Sounds like you had a wonderful day! What a great analogy too. I'm definitely running the race... although some days I'm a little slower than others. I definitely keep my eyes focused on Jesus!! Great post!

Peggy said...

Kelli...
Great post!
Yes, I try very hard every day to run the race, as best I can, with God guiding me.
The final goal is a place at the table in Heaven with my Lord and Saviour.
Blessings and Love....Peggy

Chatty Kelly said...

I'm trying to run the race! I just hope I don't poop-out before the end!

Glad you had a wonderful time!

Theresa said...

"Are you running the race or watching from the sidelines?"

I am Limping along. I have found that my limp gets a little better as more time passes. I am glad that I am off the sideline and in the race! Signed Up and now In Training!! God's working me over. :)

It does sound like a good day. How awesome to see so many finish!!

Sue J. said...

“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.”

For as many times as I have read this verse, I see something new in it today. Praise God and thank you!

First, "the sin that so easily entangles." The work we're doing in Proverbs has been so powerful in identifying sin and how quickly we can become ensnared by it. But, the book also tells us that we can use our "fight" to break away from that which traps us. And Paul urges us to cast off (steer clear of) those traps and run like the wind!

The other interesting thing I noticed is the end of the verse: "...the race marked out FOR US." I know we talk about running the same general Christian race. This personalizes things a bit more, though. I'm not supposed to run the course that you are running, nor should you run mine.

We may all see some scenery that looks familiar; we may have friends running aside for a time. But God has designed a special road just for us--all of us--and Jesus is at the finish, with "a cloud of witnesses" cheering us on throughout.

Thank you for the pictures and word pictures today!

heartreflections said...

Too often I find myself on the sidelines angry at those running! I'm jealous that they're enjoying the race. "injury" holds me back. Yet, you pointed out so beauitfully that no matter what your injury, we are all called to run. ouch.

Runner Mom said...

Girl! This post truly clicked with me! I loved what Paul said in Hebrews. I AM running the race now--some days it's not so pretty!! Just put one foot in front of the other!! God will see us through.

Love you!
Susan

So--will you do a tri sometime??? :)

Melanie said...

You were in my "neighborhood." Well...my county.
My daughter is currently training to do a triathlon and a 1/2 marathon.
Good words here.
Melanie@Bella~Mella

Cheryl Barker said...

Kelli, thanks for the reminder that we have folks cheering us on. What an amazing thought to imagine jogging into heaven as loved ones and friends -- and Jesus! -- cheer us on...

Laura said...

Oh, I run, run, run!

Then some days I watch, watch, watch!

Working on that.

This post got me a little choked up. Nothing like triumph of the human spirit to move me. What a beautiful event and how exciting that you were able to be part of the whole process!

Thanks, Kelli, for inspiring me today.

Irritable Mother said...

What a wonderful, wonderful post, Kelli. Thank you.
The past several days have been difficult ones for me to run, but I am so glad my Savior has been cheering me on, holding my hand, and staying with me during every.single.step.
May you run with His grace today!

Irritable Mother said...

What a wonderful, wonderful post, Kelli. Thank you.
The past several days have been difficult ones for me to run, but I am so glad my Savior has been cheering me on, holding my hand, and staying with me during every.single.step.
May you run with His grace today!

Mary DeMuth said...

A quick note: You won the book on my blog from Kathi Macias....Go look!

elaine @ peace for the journey said...

I'm running, friend! All the way home, and on the days when I wobble (which seem to be growing more frequent rather than less), I'm counting on some sisters and brothers to come alongside and buoy my steps.

You painted a lovely scene here. I was right there with you on race day!

peace~elaine