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“I Can Do All Things…”

June 16, 2012

Witness Through Fitness, Part 1

Around this time last year, I fell in love. I fell in love when I crossed the finish line of my first triathlon on June 4, 2011. Actually, it was about 90 seconds after crossing the line. Before that I was desperately catching my breath and trying not to puke on the spectators cheering everyone on. But accomplishing my goal and getting that medal felt great, because I knew there had been a lot of hard work leading up to that moment, and a lot of people who had helped me get that far.

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After My First Triathlon, June 4 2011.

This year on June 9th, I raced again. Instead of “My First Tri,” I was participating in “My Next Tri,” although technically, it was my 6th. Nevertheless, this day was one of huge celebration. It was a day where our team, Witness through Fitness, had over 40 members accomplish their personal goals of completing a triathlon. Over 30 of them were racing their first.

When this group began I was a little unsure of how much I would be able to participate. I had every excuse imaginable: I was out of shape, my schedule was crazy, I didn’t own a bike, I wasn’t sure I could afford it. The list went on. But I had several people who stood beside me, encouraged me, ignored my excuses, and helped me make it that first year until I was sufficiently hooked. They gave so much of their time, talent, and love. I was so grateful for those who walked, then ran beside me. When it came time to start a new group of training first timers, I wanted to help. Not that I had all the answers or the best training plan, but I knew I could offer love and encouragement that others had first shown me.

Back in January, we were thrilled when over 50 people showed up for our first run practice. You could see some nerves, some uncertainty, some excitement, and a lot of heart. Training with this group over the next 5 months brought a lot of adventures. I expected to hear some complaints about sore muscles or achy knees. I expected to get some glares when we encouraged more effort. What I did not expect was just how much this group would experience, how much they would triumph, how much they would witness to me.

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Witness through Fitness group after one of our first run practices in January.

With a group of over 50 people, you have to expect some things to happen. Within the first couple of months, two members were diagnosed with breast cancer and had to stop training and start treatment. One member flipped off his bike, broke his collarbone, and endured surgery. A few others dealt with bronchitis, pneumonia, strained calves, scraped knees, sore arches, etc.

I got frustrated for them. I got a little irritated with God. Even though I know it’s bad theology, I started to feel like God was picking on my team. Here were individuals who were committed to making healthy choices and positive changes in their lives, and it seemed like every obstacle was being thrown in their way. But like I said, that’s bad theology. I do not believe that God punishes us. I do not believe that God causes bad things to happen to us. I believe that God walks, and perhaps runs, with us even in our most difficult moments and hardest challenges.

What truly struck me was how powerfully God worked in our group. When someone got sick or injured, others would support them through prayer and presence, words of comfort and hope. Even more amazing were the ones who found strength within themselves, deep within, to pursue their dreams against all odds. When diagnosed with an illness or injury, I heard so many say, “I’m not quitting. I’m not giving up. As soon as my doctor gives me the ok, I’m going to be back training.”

I think of the woman who said, “There isn’t a day that I train where something doesn’t hurt.” But she never took a day off from training. She learned the difference between soreness and injury, learned how to push her body in a healthy way, and didn’t let a little pain keep her from trying. She excelled in her training and completed the triathlon first in her age group.

I think of the woman who got frustrated at the pace she was progressing. She wasn’t losing weight as quickly as she wanted. She wasn’t increasing her pace in her run like she wanted. She had to ice her knee after each workout to keep the pain bearable. At one point, she even claimed that she had no desire to ever run more than 5 miles at a time. Yet she never gave up. She kept pushing forward. She initiated training runs, rides and swims with others in the group who were struggling too. She held others accountable to join her for a workout and encouraged them along the way. She lost the pounds, increased her pace, and signed up for a 10K (6 mile run) and completed it before the tri. She finished the race ahead of her goal and is currently looking for her next tri in which she’ll compete.

I think of the man who had back surgery two years ago, receiving a steel rod in his back. He counted down the days until he was allowed to ride a bike again and began training diligently. He listened to his body and moved at his own pace, but he learned as much as he could about each discipline so that he could make the most of his race. He speed walked with a smile and persevered on the bike. You could see the twinkle in his eye as he excitedly shared his improvements each month. He completed the tri with the rest of the team and inspired others all along the way.

Steve Brotherton after completing the TRI! All smiles!

I think of the woman who worked so hard on training, always pushed herself, then wrote this as her status update after completing the tri…”Born with a heart condition, told not to play sports as a kid, then heart surgery as an adult…and today completed a TRI! Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t!!” What more can I say? Simply incredible.

I think of the man who fell off his bike, broke his collarbone, and never complained one bit. He saw it as a minor setback. His training was put on hold, but the thought of quitting the tri never crossed his mind. Even when his arm was in a sling and he could not run, bike or swim, he would show up at 8:00 am to Saturday practices to connect with the group, hear the morning’s devotional, and then head home, always a smile on his face. He was thrilled to be cleared by his doctor in time to compete in the race, and crossed the finish line on June 9th. I have said that he is my hero, and it is because of his determination, incredible attitude, and perseverance to push through life’s challenges and his decision to never lose hope.

I think of the man who I just happened to park next to one night at Stone Mountain. We were gathering for a group ride, and he happened to ask, “Are y’all riding as a group?” I replied that we were and invited him to join us. He did. We got to know each other, and I told him about Witness through Fitness. He joined us the following week for another ride. Before we knew it, he had signed up for his first tri just a few weeks away and was ready to race with our team.

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Wednesday Night Stone Mountain training ride. Newcomers always welcome!

Unfortunately, on race day, our newest member took a difficult turn on the bike and wiped out. Kinsey and Cliff, our coaches and leaders, and Celeste, another team member, were standing on the sidelines taking pictures and cheering on the team. These three immediately ran out to assist him. They had not had the chance to meet him, and had no idea he was part of our Witness through Fitness team. But he recognized them from pictures he had seen of our group, and called them out by name. This was truly a God moment; that our team leaders would assist who they assumed was a stranger, though knowing their hearts I would expect nothing less. I knew that the Spirit of God was present that even after wiping out on his bike, even in his pain and injury this brave racer was able to recognize familiar faces and know that he was not alone.

God has been so good and so faithfully present in this team. While it may just seem like an exercise group or a tri club, it has truly become one of my favorite ministries. It is a chance to uphold our brothers and sisters in caring for their bodies and souls. It is a chance to support one another in struggles and difficulties and celebrate together in joys and triumphs. It is a chance to reach out to those outside our church and invite them in to a sense of community. And it is a chance to fall in love: in love with triathlon, in love with the team, and in love with our gracious and ever present God.

“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Phil. 4:13

Just a handful of our awesome racers after the TRI on June 9th 2012.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. James Mooneyhan permalink
    June 16, 2012 6:52 pm

    Great! Thank you!

  2. Lori Buckner permalink
    June 16, 2012 8:10 pm

    This entire group is amazing! I started out last year not thinking I could do it, not sure I would fit in with the group. Little did I know how accepting and I judgmental everyone was. We had two of the best trainers last year and I personally had two additional cheerleaders that pushed me along! Thank you Julie and Jennifer. With these 4 people I could never fail! It was an amazing experience physically and mentally! I was so excited this year to do it all over again! Due to a family illness it made it hard for me to participate much, but I loved the little bit of time I had. I hope to continue this summer and fall training with you all and really hope we do it again next year! I cannot say thank you enough for the time and effort and support from all of the trainers! You are all amazing people!

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