I often get asked, “What made you do your first triathlon?” And I used to say, “I don’t know….I am scared to death of water, I had never biked and I hated running!” But, years later I can look at that moment in my life and see it as a pivotal turning point in my existence. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God orchestrated those circumstances so that I would start a journey of personal growth. A journey of understanding endurance and patience. A journey to understand that accomplishing your goals and reaching the finish line is GREAT; but the most important lessons you will learn always happen in the middle – on the journey.
You see, I was a basketball player growing up. In other words, I didn’t run long distances. In essence I was a sprinter. My main job was to get to the other end of the court as fast as I could. I understood hard work and time at practice, but basketball was not hard for me…it was fun. It was social for me – I loved being part of a team. I didn’t have to organize the practices, I just had to show up. I showed up everyday because that was just what you did when you were on the team; everyone else showed up so I did. Not a lot of thought went into it – it was just what who I was. I learned a ton from my basketball career, but endurance wasn’t one of those things. Remember, I was a sprinter!
If you would have asked me back then if I would ever do a Half Ironman Triathlon, I would have laughed. That was something other people did – people in much better shape then me. I just didn’t see myself as “that kind of person”. I used to watch the Ironman Championships in Kona during the 1980’s and like many other people I watched the pain and agony of the participants and I used to think, “how can those people endure all of that and still finish?” It was such a foreign concept to me and yet I was so intrigued! There was something about the struggle they were in that drew me like a fly to honey. I thought those people were super human! At the time, I never realized that what I was watching on the television screen was an illustration of life and the struggles that many people have to endure. Maybe that is why it was so intriguing to me. Deep down I knew that those people weren’t that different than the rest of us…they had just learned to endure LONGER and I wanted to know how they did it.
Training for my first triathlon was brutal. I had to overcome many obstacles. I was absolutely terrified of water because of a near drowning incident when I was young. Learning to swim was a huge hurdle and one that took me quite awhile to get through. I had to make up my own training plan and follow it religiously in order to build up my ability to bike and run longer distances. In a nutshell, training was incredibly hard and tedious. I really don’t think I truly enjoyed any of it because every day was a struggle within my mind. A struggle with believing that reaching the goal was possible – a struggle with whether I had what it takes to finish. But I DID! I finished that first triathlon. I thought I was going to drown during the swim, not to mention fighting through the panic attacks in the pool. I also ended up walking most of the run portion and it took me FOREVER to finish….but the moment I crossed that finish line my life changed forever. I was a triathlete. I was “one of those people”, the people I had watched on the television set over a decade before.
There are so many things in that moment that I could elaborate on…but today I want to just say…I don’t think I grasped the enormity of that moment right then. Not until days later, when I was reflecting on the training leading up to the race, did I understand what a huge shift in my thinking this accomplishment had started. It was the first time I understood that with consistency and endurance I could do ANYTHING!
As the years went by and I continued to train I fell in love with endurance sports. The lessons I have learned from training for events have been lessons that I so NEEDED in all areas of my life. And it has amazed me at how much all of these lessons really impact every area of my life – how universal they are!
And the biggest lesson of all is….God had a plan! He knew that He wanted to use me to teach all these lessons to other people, but first I must learn them for myself. Not only did I need to learn them, but I needed to become passionate about implementing them into my life. I needed to be able to walk the walk before I could preach it!
I absolutely had to learn about things such as consistency and resilience in all circumstances. I needed to understand that growth happens only in the difficult situations. That we don’t become stronger without resistance and that safety in our comfort zone is just fake security. I had to tap into that place deep inside of myself that would not feel sorry for myself, but would instead realize that I could fight through the pain and come out as a survivor!
But more importantly I needed to figure out how to lean into God in the hard times and get my strength from Him instead of depending on myself. In the middle of a hard run, when everything in my body hurt and I wanted to quit. I needed to know how to speak the promises of my Lord; to believe that He would never leave me or forsake me…to believe that I was more than an Conqueror. In the quiet times of bike rides, when the hill was before me and my leg muscles were already on fire, I needed to have the confidence that All things are possible with God and that with Him at my right hand I would not be shaken.
I learned these lessons in the grueling training sessions and in the stretches of road I traversed in the middle of a race. There were so many times I wanted to quit, but that still small voice would whisper – “You can do this, I am right here with you!” And, every time I was able to finish, not in my own power, but in His! Yes….I learned all of this on the roads and in the pool….but I have learned that every lesson I have been taught is applicable to all the areas of my life. I have learned that I can face all the aspects of my life with the same attitudes and dependence.
Hebrews 12:1 in the Bible has always been a favorite scripture of mine….it ends with “….And let us run with endurance (perserverence) the race marked out for us.”
I always loved the picture that this particular passage brought to mind and I never knew why….but I now know it was because of the word ENDURE. I used to just see this verse as a cool verse that talked about sports, but I now see it as so much more.
This verse has so many factors, but the word endurance in the final sentence really hits me. It paints a picture of a long race with lots of different emotional levels. It says in that one word that we humans will have great joy but also great pain; we will have gain and we will have loss; life will not always be easy, but with God it is possible. And, it points to the fact that through all of our weaknesses, we will find strength in Jesus to finish the race HE marked out for us!
Many of us can look back on our life and see a time when a decision changed the course of our life. As silly as it may seem, the decision to train for my first triathlon was the BEST decision of my life. It was a step of obedience towards a future that God had planned out before I was born. I can now see that everything I have learned and become passionate about is everything I am called to pass on to others. I can clearly see what gifts God has given me and what my purpose in life is. And…I never would have known any of that without a decision to step out of my comfort zone, without learning the importance of consistency and without realizing that I can endure much more than I ever imagined. I would not be able to speak into others’ lives without walking through it myself. I wouldn’t have been given the blessing of speaking life, coaching people through the journey, or believing in others until they can believe in themselves unless I had trusted in God’s leading and taken that first step.
So, in order to finish the race God marked out for you, you must take the first step. You must be ready to be consistent and resilient. You must understand that there will be set backs, there will be hard times and there will be pain. But, there will also be incredible joy and celebration as you learn to endure…you learn to finish strong…and you learn to cross the finish line in the arms of Jesus!

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