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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

THE RACE OF LIFE



          I know you may not ever guess it by looking at us now in our middle age physiques, but for my wife and I, running and the sport of Track & Field was a big part of our life and is actually responsible for us meeting, falling in love and eventually getting married.
          I was a Senior and she was a Sophomore at Madison High School in Rexburg, Idaho.  I was one of the bigger “field event” guys who threw the Shot Put and Discus,
 while she was a tremendous runner and all-around athlete, who excelled in the hurdles.  In fact the only event I ever ran in was a race I don’t think they even do anymore, “The Fat Man’s Relay”!  It was like a token event at the end of the track meet, where all the big bubbas who threw shot and discus formed teams to compete in a 4x100 relay!
          Normally the weight event guys were relegated to ambiguity off behind the stadium hurling heavy implements while grunting and shouting like ancient warriors, where nobody in the stands ever got to see us perform.
  But at the conclusion of all the actual scored running events, they would allow the big dudes to gather for the Fat-Man relay.  All the other runners and competitors were already finished and so everyone watched, laughed, cheered and screamed as we lumbered around the track in our competition.  It was awesome!
          I was always the anchor leg for our big-guy relay, and sprinted the final 100 meters to the finish line.  With all the cheers and adulation (which was probably more like laughter, but I couldn’t ever tell through all my exertion and heavy breathing), it felt like sprinting down the home stretch in the Olympics.  In one race, another bubba from a rival school had about a 10 meter lead on me when I received the baton, gradually closing the gap I pushed myself to the max (which was kind of like flooring a Hummer – lots of power, but not a lot of top end speed).  As we neared the finish line we were neck and neck, and as if the fate of the world hung in the balance I threw myself forward in a lunging dive to cross the tape in first place.  The victory was short lived as I tumbled and skidded down the track resulting in moderate to severe road rash, but otherwise avoiding any serious injury.
          My wife on the other hand was simply awesome!  Her senior season she was an UNDEFEATED District & State Champion in the hurdles!
           In fact, after nearly 27 years, she still holds the Madison High School record for that event!  She went on to run on a track scholarship for Ricks College as was a Junior College All-American as a freshman in the 100 meter hurdles!
          How we met back in high school was kind of interesting however.  Although we were both on the track team at the same school, we didn’t really know each other very well.  I was friends with her older brother who was my age, and knew who she was, but we had never really talked much throughout the year.  She actually had another boyfriend who was a distance runner on the team, but he didn’t run well enough to qualify for the State meet in Boise.  I had won the district championship in the discus, and my wife had qualified in the high jump (She didn’t begin running hurdles until later on).
          As we loaded the bus to drive from Rexburg to Boise for the state meet, we had too many kids to fit on the bus, so they asked me and another senior boy to ride in a van with some of the coaches.  My wife had forgotten something at home and was late getting back and missed the bus, so the coaches waited and she and another girl road with us in the van all the way across the state.  We talked, chatted and had a fun time.  At the meet, both of our events were on the morning of the first day of the meet, so for the next two days we hung out together, went out to eat, watched some guy at lunch accidentally shove a straw up his nose, and had a lot of fun, in addition to watching and cheering on our teammates in their events.
          When we returned home 3 days later, she dumped her old boyfriend, and we dated for 8 months until I went on my mission.  When I returned home after 2 years, she was standing next to my parents at the airport and the rest is history!
          Our 2nd son, Tyler, followed in his mother’s footsteps as he got into high school and under the coaching of his mom, became a very gifted hurdler.  He was a two-time District Champion in the 300 hurdles and two time state finalist. (In center below)
           His junior year he was in a literal photo finish and took 2nd place by .01 seconds. (In the picture below, he is 3rd from the right in the blue)




          He ran so smooth, quick and gracefully that watching him was like what a lumbering thug like me can only dream of doing!  He also still holds the school record at Sugar Salem High School in the 300 hurdles and in the 4x400 relay.  I will include a video of a few of his races here:
video

          He received several track scholarship offers for college, but when he informed the schools that he would be leaving after his freshman season to serve a 2 year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, all of them rescinded their offers.  Nonetheless, I am proud of his decision to be open and honest with those Universities and that he put the Lord first in going on his mission.
           But I didn’t really write this blog today to brag about how awesome my wife and son are (although I love doing that and my other two boys are just as equally awesome as well), but rather to write about a different runner, who I never even met personally, but who affected my life in a profound way!
          It was 2009 and we were at the Idaho state high school track finals being held at Boise State University.  Our son was competing there, but the runner I will reference today was not in the same events as our son.
          It was the 100 meter dash finals, where fierce and speedy competitors give their all to prove who is the fastest man in the state! As I looked down at the 8 competitors who were preparing down by the starting line, there was one young man from Nampa Christian, a smaller school, who called out and motioned for all the other competitors to come and gather together.  He had them huddle in a circle and they all put their arms around each other’s shoulders as he bowed his head in what I can only assume was a prayer for safety and that each competitor would be able to perform their best.
          What happened next took me by even greater surprise.  As they approached the starting line, I noticed this young man was assigned to lane #4, which is usually reserved for the fastest qualifying runner from the preliminary rounds.  I quickly glanced in the program and realized that he was the returning state champion from the previous year.  I can still remember his full name, although since I don’t have his permission I will only call him Mike.
          As he stepped up to the line, he picked up his starting blocks and set them back several feet behind himself and stepped up to the line standing upright.  As the other runners got down into their block and coiled like cats waiting to spring, he only leaned forward on his feet.
          When the gun went off, all the competitors raced down the track at full speed, but this returning champion, hindered by the lack of starting blocks… finished in last place.  He then joyfully congratulated the other runners and the new champion for that year.
          To be completely honest, I don’t have any idea who actually won the race that day.  But I know for a fact which young man was winning the race of life!!!  Already a champion, Mike realized that being a real winner in life is centered not in our own glory or achievement, but in helping others to rise to their potential and achieve success!
          I learned a great lesson that day, from a young high school kid, which has greatly benefitted me over the years since, and one that we could all stand to learn from.
          We live in a day and age when married couples divorce and throw away their vows of commitment at an alarming rate! Where business competitors and politicians slander and throw mud at each other in attempt to prove they are #1, only to come across as childish, greedy, self-centered and immature.
          Couldn’t we all stand to learn that in the race of life together, rather than fueling our selfish and competitive desires to win each argument, prove we are right, and try to raise ourselves up by putting our others down only shows how weak and lacking in control we really are?
          Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we could all look at each other as children of God and the potential champions that we are destined to become?  If we were more motivated to serve and lift others up to higher ground I’m sure we would find ourselves standing much higher in the end as well.
          So let’s all learn a lesson from Mike, and make an effort to be a little more aware of those around us, a little more confident in ourselves and our standing and worth, no matter what the outcome, and with the knowledge that through service and charity, we become true champions in the race of life that we all run together!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

SO YOU WANNA BE A TOUGH GUY?

           Let’s face it guys (and some gals), we’ve ALL done it!  You walk into a room with other people you don’t know and immediately you start summing up how many guys you might actually be able to beat up in a fight if push came to shove.  It’s like a genetically engrained subconscious “where do I fit into the hierarchy” kind of thing.  Where do I fit into the pack?  Am I the Alpha male, the runt, or one of the medium level guys?

            Now some of us have actually lived in places or been in situations where this reaction might be a necessary survival skill.  Police officers, military personnel and some others may have to make snap decisions about life or death in order to stay alive, but most of us are just average guys living mundane lives whose biggest decision is to decide what shirt to put on when we get dressed in the morning.

            So what is it inside that makes us judgmental of where/how we rank compared to those around us?

            Now I’ll admit, when I was in my younger days and growing up through high school, this was much more of an issue than it is now that I have matured and discovered what it means to really be a man (but we will talk about that later on in this story).  Now, I’m not saying that I was a thug who used to go around looking for a fight or beating people up. On the contrary, I was a pretty mild mannered guy who tried to be amiable to other people around me (at least I hope I was).

            Nevertheless, I lifted weights, participated in athletics and even took several years of karate during my formative years.  I knew that I wasn’t the toughest guy around, but I was confident that I could handle myself if push actually did come to shove.  And I think that confidence actually helped keep me out of more trouble than it got me into.


            There were some guys who always seemed to have to publicly prove how tough they “thought” they were.  They were the loud mouthed, braggadocios who were always popping off and giving those they deemed as weaker a hard time.  The classic Bullies.

            I witnessed this backfire on several occasions though, which was actually quite hilarious!  I remember one particular thug who thought he was “all that and a bag of chips”, who teased a very quiet and reserved classmate in the locker room at P.E., a few moments later the bully was down and out with blood gushing out his nostrils on the dingy tile floor with a broken nose and eyes that resembled a raccoon for several weeks.

            Another time I witnessed 3 kids trying to pick a fight with another single boy who had supposedly offended one of their girlfriends.  The single guy, who was just an average high school teenager, dropped two of them onto the asphalt between the cars in the parking lot before they could finish accusing him, while the third stunned guy backed away in shame, not wanting anything to do with the flying fists of fury.

            I had multiple occasions where other guys came up to me looking for trouble.  Once, while changing after a high school football practice, a Senior teammate who felt he had to prove a point of his rank, approached me with some derogatory comments and got in my face expecting me to back down or cower away.  I was in good shape, was bigger than he was, and had 4 years of karate under my belt, but he didn’t know that.  Out of nowhere he was in my face taunting me with words I won’t repeat here in the public forum.  I didn’t flinch, but instead confidently turned to face him and said, “Are you absolutely sure you want to find out how UN-tough you really are?”
          He cowered a bit, dropped his eyes to the floor, then cracked a nervous smile and attempted to joke, “Ha, I was just kidding man,” then tucked his invisible tail between his legs and slunk away.

            Although I’m a pretty passive and relaxed guy, I have been in a few actual fights in my day, and I can tell you one thing.  It’s not like in the movies.  People fight dirty and things aren’t fair, and even if you clean some guys clock in self-defense, you are most likely going to come away with a few lumps, scrapes or even a broken hand from where you knocked a guy out by punching him in the forehead. (I was aiming for his nose, but he flinched and ducked… but that’s another story).

            Now that I have matured, I usually don’t walk into a place and size everyone up.  But for some reason I still like to be aware of my surroundings, sit in the table or booth at the restaurant where my back is against a wall and I can see everyone else in the place, etc…  I think this habit is more out of wanting to protect my wife or kids when out in public then it is about seeing where I rank on the toughness scale.

            Women are a different situation altogether.  Instead of thinking about fighting, they go into a room judging how their appearances rank next to everyone else.  I’ll save all the ladies in the world the trouble right now by saying that wherever my wife goes, she will ALWAYS be the best looking lady in the place, so you will just have to settle for sorting yourselves out below her!

            So I guess what I’m getting at is that although we like to try to rank ourselves compared to everyone else around us, thinking we are tough or in charge of the situation, is really all just an illusion.

            To illustrate this point, let me share a short story with you.  I was a young father, who was playing with my oldest son, who happened to be 3 years old at the time.  I was a fit 6’3”, 230 pound lean machine at that time.  We were on the trampoline and I was on my knees as he stood in front of me.  We were playing ninjas or some other game I can’t remember, but I was pretending to fight him and have a good time.  Then, without expecting it, my cute, cuddly little tike hauled off a stiff right jab which caught me right in the eye.  Trouble was, his little fisted knuckles were small enough to fit right inside my eye socket and smack me right on the eyeball!  Clutching my optic orb in throbbing pain with both hands, my 3 year old ninja then kicked me right-square in the crotch with a perfect strike that would have made Chuck Norris jealous with envy!

            Toppled into a helpless heap on the trampoline, one hand on my eye and the other covering a different part of anatomy, my son jumped and pounced on me with merciless, laughter-filled abandon, as I thought in agony, “What the…? I just totally got the crap beat out of me by a 3 year old!”

            The main point of the story is this.  Most of what we consider to be strength, control, intelligence, fitness, good looks, financial security, etc… is really just a sham.  Everything we have of each and every moment of each and every day is a gift from God, and can be taken away in an instant.  Health can change with sudden illness, accidents can cripple and maim, jobs can be lost, good looks fade and change with age and somebody tougher is always just around the corner.

            The key to being a real man and having real strength and security comes from knowing how weak and vulnerable we all really are.  With that humility, we can then finally realize our dependence upon God, and if we are willing to turn to Him and rely upon Him, and be grateful for the precious gifts and experiences he grants us each day or our existence, then we can come to know that He is our loving, merciful, gracious and kind Heavenly Father.  And knowing that, we can understand that we are indeed His children, and are eternally precious in His sight.  With that knowledge comes true confidence in our standing and abilities, for we begin to see the potential of what it is we can become if we will trust and follow Him!
            I’m thankful for the moments of my life which have literally driven me to my knees, humbled me, and forced me to turn unto the true Alpha and Omega of all beings, for in and through Him, I can hold my head high and stand with confidence before the world. This perspective also allows me to see the divine potential of those around me with more clarity as well.  And in a world full of so much deception, lies, bullying and malice, the knowledge of who we truly are is the remedy that each and every one of us need to make this world a better place!