For over four decades I have had the wondrous privilege to help coach high school distance runners. I have seen all types of runners over the years. Some have committed themselves to being the best they can be, some have given a half-hearted effort,  and some have been social athletes who simply came out because they desired to be with their friends. Regardless of those I have coached, I trust they all have learned to some degree that the principles of commitment and dedication they gained from running will in the future serve them well in other areas of their lives.



Every once in awhile a runner comes along that makes a lasting impression upon me because they exhibit that extra “something” that distinguishes them from others. They possess the heart of a champion. My list of those types of runners is a most exclusive club. As the 2016 track season has come to a close one young man whose name has been added to the list of those who possess the heart of a champion is Elkin’s Jacob Parker. On Friday, May 20, Jacob ended his high school track career by capturing the silver medal in the 2 mile at the NCHSAA 1A State Track Championships. In the four years I have coached him he has been an example of what it means to run with the heart of a champion.

My first encounter with Jacob at the end of his eighth grade year revealed a boldness that I knew would result in him being a great runner. My first words to him were, “I have been watching you run. I have coached a lot of champions over the years and I can make you a champion, too.” His brash response took me by surprise, “Have you had a lot of champions because you are a good coach or because they were talented runners?” I thought to myself, “This kid has got a ‘set’ to say that to me, but I like that brashness. I just have to channel that brashness in the right direction.” My verbal response back to him was, “Well, probably a little bit of both.”

Little did I know I was about to embark upon a journey that was both challenging and most rewarding.

Over the years I have had some hard workers who sought to achieve their best and Jacob quickly moved toward the top of that list.  From day one he exhibited the heart of a champion. He could be stubborn, but most good runners are. However, Jacob’s inner engine and will to achieve was often more powerful than his muscles and his immune system. I at times had to adjust his training to avoid injury because his muscles and connective tissues would rebel if adequate recovery days were not properly  inserted between hard workouts.  Always giving me 100% when he trained and raced, his immune system at times would betray him and sickness would occur. As an example, at the beginning of his junior year he became so weak from a virus that attacked his system, for almost two weeks he could barely walk much less run. If I had been a betting man I would never have believed he would have had a cross country season. But possessing the heart of a champion he battled back to lead the Elkin xc team to capturing the 2014 MVAC Conference Championship and qualifying for the State Championships, and individually earning All-Conference and All-Regional honors, and running an exceptional 16:22 5K by season’s end. Astounding for a kid who only eight weeks before could not walk without assistance. But he has the heart of a champion.

Also, during his junior track season (2015) he battled IT Band Syndrome and there were days he could barely workout. But on meet days he exhibited the heart of a champion and ran with guts and determination that defied explanation. By year’s end he had captured 2 mile titles at  the Surry County Championships, MVAC Championships, Mid-West Regional Championships and earned All-State honors for the second year in a row at the NCHSAA 1A State Championships.

An unselfish runner, this year at the MVAC Championships he sacrificed his individual races to anchor the 4X800 relay in order to help his teammates become conference champions, qualify for regionals and earn all-conference honors. The team was not favored to win or expected to win, but with Jacob running his fastest 800 ever he willed the team to victory. After the race he told me, “I am glad I could help my teammates win.” A typical response from one who possesses the heart of a champion.

Even though throughout his career he battled nagging physical set-backs and various sicknesses, he captured awards and accolades too numerous to list.

At this year’s Midwest Regional Track Championship Jacob found himself in a race that contained the five fastest two-milers in 1A state. Running a determined and superb race, he won running a PR,  breaking the MW Regional record that had stood for 14 years, and posting the fastest time in the state for 1A. It was his third straight Midwest Regional Championship victory.

One race remained…..the NCHSAA 1A State Championships. I always tell those I coach that there are never any guarantees at the state meet and that my job as a coach is to prepare you to be one of the three or four runners who actually has a chance to win, then you line up and race and see what happens.  On Friday, May 20, not only battling fifteen other runners but also a sinus infection, the gun sounded to send the runners off.

Jacob ran with guts and determination, leading the majority of the race. He ran with the heart of a champion. Only in the last 70 yards did he yield the lead to a withering finishing kick by a runner from Thomas Jefferson High (9:47), finishing his high school career in the runner-up spot in 9:49 a new PR and an Elkin High school record.  One fact is certain, he left it all on the track…because he has the heart of a champion.

As can be imagined, one who has the heart of a champion is never satisfied with anything other than first place. As Jacob stood on the awards podium to receive his silver medal I looked past the disappointment etched on his face because he didn’t win gold, and I saw what I had seen for four years…the heart of a champion who has always been a winner in every respect. I could not have been prouder for what he had accomplished and the much “stuff” he had overcome to be standing there.

Running is truly a microcosm of life. You see, winning is not always about capturing the gold but having that heart of a champion who always gives their best and never gives up. One’s attitude and reaction to setbacks that so often occur in sports is an indicator of how one will react to such “stuff” that will without doubt occur in future areas of life. And occur they will. One who displays the heart of a champion in the face of adversity will go far in life and achieve much success.

The heart of a champion never gives up no matter the odds or how difficult things may look. They look to overcome not quit. Jacob teaches us to keep working and be determined in our hearts that no matter the odds we find ourselves facing, with the Lord’s help, we will be successful if we stay “at it.” And staying “at it” is a quality one with the heart of a champion possesses.

I am thankful I have had the privilege to coach someone like Jacob Parker who is a reminder of what can be achieved when one possesses the heart of a champion.


Dr. Dan


Never be afraid to dream even if it seems impossible to reach or seems farfetched to others. Every great achievement began as a dream in the mind of a dreamer. On Friday, May 9, 2014, I watched a dream unfold into accomplishment. It only took four minutes and eight second to culminate into reality, but the dream began well over a year ago. Photo4x400

Last year the Elkin 4×400 relay team set as a goal to win a state title. It would be no easy task and some would say a pipedream, but I believed in the girls’ dream. I knew it would take at least a year. While we had a good relay team in 2013, we continually ran second to West Wilkes who are always a perennial favorite in our conference. When we ran them we would run fast, but they would always run a tad faster. Then there was Bishop McGuinness, who year after year are favorites to win the state title. We were not yet a threat to them. By the end of 2013 Elkin had climbed the ladder to become the fifth fastest 4×4 relay team in the state. Not bad, but certainly not the fulfillment of the dream the girls had.

As 2014 dawned Carrie, Payton, Kelsey and Shakai had not lost their dream and their will to work to make it a reality. They were bound as one in their hearts and wills.Their first relay effort of the year in March was a modest 4:37, a long way from the sub-4:10 I knew it would probably take to win at state. But as a coach I love the challenge of helping runners achieve goals that seem unattainable.

We chased West Wilkes all season, finally knocking them off for the Conference Title; the girls running the second fastest time in the state (4:19). We were only two seconds behind Bishop for the fastest time in 1A state.  At the 1A Midwest Regional Championships we got our first crack at Bishop. We ran five seconds faster than we had run all year (4:14), but Bishop ran one second faster barely beating us to the finishline. We would get one more crack at them at state. There was no doubt in my mind, or the Elkin girls, we would win – you must believe in your dreams!

The day of the 2014 NCHSAA 1A State Championship finally arrived. The girls couldn’t wait to run, but it would be a long wait as the 4×400 is the last event of the day. A few more hours were not a long wait as the wait had already been over a year. As the Elkin girls were escorted to the starting line they were brimming with confidence. I knew we would win if our first leg, Carrie, would run 66 seconds, which was two seconds faster than she had ever run. I told her I had no doubt she would do it…and she did! She carried the baton around the track with resolve, purpose and determination in exactly 66 seconds. We were in fourth plaFinalStepsof4x4ce as she handed the baton to Payton. Payton moved us up to third, but only a few yards separated the top three at the baton exchange.  Kelsey surged down the homestretch to move us into second as she handed off the baton to Shakai, fresh off her winning the state 400  title. It doesn’t hurt to have the fastest 400 meter runner in the state as your anchor leg! Ten yards behind, she quickly made up the difference moving into first place. Shakai shot down the backstretch like a graceful but powerful deer. But the race was not over, as around the last curve the Bishop girl mounted one last charge. Champions don’t give up easily and I didn’t expect anything less from them. But this time their challenge fail short as one last surge by Shakai in the homestretch secured a hard fought victory, Eklin winning 4:08 to 4:10.

The dream had become a reality. The celebration that was once imagined was now being enjoyed. Tears of joy flowed in relief and smiles glowed like a multitude of brilliant half moons hanging in a starry sky. Dreams do come true, but not without determination, some disappointment along the way, hard work, a lot of sweat and the girt to never give up. As Walt Disney once said, “All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.”

Do you have a dream you are pursuing? Dreams are motivators. Dreams keep our eyes focused on the future and our steps in the present in consistent pursuit of them. And even if you don’t reach your desired goal you come a lot closer to it than if you had none at all. I would rather pursue a dream and fall short than to never attempt to soaring above the clouds with eagles.  Theodore Roosevelt once wisely said, “Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checked by failure…than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”

Even if your dreams seem farfetched and out of reach, pursue them anyway. Grit and determination is the only stairway to new heights. There is no elevator to success; it comes one step at a time. With the Good Lord by our side the dreams He births in our hearts can become a reality. I was moved and touched as I watched the Elkin girls huddle in prayer before they ran. While they had trained hard for this moment, they knew where their true strength and resolve came from. The gold medal around their necks is but a reflection of their gold medal character.

My friend, go chase a dream. It will add years to your life and life to your years, and give you purpose and joy in its pursuit.


Dr. Dan


On Saturday, May 3, the Elkin High School track team, which I am privileged to help coach, traveled to the Midwest 1A Regional Championships. One has to qualify to participate in a regional meet, then the top four finishers in each event at the regionals qualifies for the 1A State Championships the following week. Those top four places in each event are coveted spots athletes from twenty schools fiercely compete to capture. Elkin was expected to capture several top four positions. We did extremely well, with twelve boys and girls qualifying to make the trip to the state championship meet.rulebook

Though Elkin was most successful, there were two races in which Buckin’ Elk runners were disqualified forfeiting the right to advance to the state meet and the medals that would have been theirs. In the 4×800 relay the Elkin girls, who were ranked second in the state, were called for initiating interference with another runner in the homestretch and were unfortunately disqualified. In the boys 3200 meter run the Elkin runner ran a superb race to capture fourth, raising his hands in triumph as he crossed the finishline; a yearlong goal reached. His elation was quickly turned to shock, disbelief and tears after learning he had been disqualified for taking steps off the track after being jostled by another runner. Those two incidents were disappointments on an otherwise most successful day. According to the judges who made those calls, both disqualifications were the result of violations that were clearly spelled out in the rule book.

All that is involved in running, the training, the competing, and following the rules, is but a microcosm of life and the Christian life. In the aftermath of those two disqualifications, two Bible verses come to my mind. One comes from 2 Timothy 2:5 where Paul tells his readers, in comparing the Christian life to that of a runner, that if anyone competes as an athlete they are not crowned unless they compete according to the rules. The other verse is found in I Corinthians 9:27 where Paul writes, “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway (disqualified).”

What did Paul mean when he said he closely adhered to the “rule book”  so as not to be a “castaway?” First, the passage is not talking about fear of losing his salvation, for in the context of the passage Paul is not talking about salvation, but he is talking about Christian service. Second, the word “castaway” is from a Greek word the means “disapproval after having failed to meet the requirements.” James Stratten says of the word “castaway” that it referred to “one who had been pronounced by the judges to be disqualified for the Greek games, or one who, having been permitted to enter into the contest, fails to meet the requirements…The theological idea of reprobation does not belong to this word, it is simply intrinsic worthlessness [and uselessness] brought to light by the scrutiny of God’s eye, [and] the searching efficacy of His Word…”

Paul was speaking of His service to the Lord. Paul was careful not live in direct and intentional violation of the requirements of the Lord for his life lest he be disapproved or disqualified from being used in service by Him. Paul knew he had to abide by the rules if he was to be used effectively by the Lord, and if he didn’t he would be disqualified from being used by Him.

In the same regard, when we live in direct and intentional violation of the Word of God, He will not use us. We can’t expect to be used by the Lord if we have unclean hands, an impure pure and feet that are walking in forbidden paths of deliberate disobedience (Ps. 24:4). If we are intentionally ignoring the “rule book” of the Word of God as it relates to our lives in regard to our relationship with Him, our fellowman and ourselves, we should not wonder that His hand in service and blessing is not upon us. Obviously I am not talking about living perfectly, for that is not possible, but I am talking about intentional consistency and commitment. Paul tells the loose living Corinthians in regard to being used of the Lord, “Moreover it is required in a servant that a man be found faithful” (I Cor. 4:2).

Are we being faithful in our service? Are we abiding by the rules? Are we disciplined? Are we consistent in our living? Are we keeping our hands off the unclean things that will certainly bring about our demise in effective service to the Lord? Are we listening to the voice of our Heavenly Coach and keeping ourselves abreast of the truths in His Guide Book for our daily living and our spiritual health? If can’t we answer “yes” to these questions then why should we be surprised that we have been disqualified from effective service for the Lord and disapproved from all the rewards and blessings that go with faithfully and consistently abiding in Him.

While the Elkin runners were temporarily disappointed for being disqualified, disappoint from disqualification from an earthly race can’t be compared to the spiritual anguish, regret and disappointment of being set aside in our service to the Lord. Let us remain faithful and heed the advice of John, “Abide in Him that when He shall appear we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming” (I John 2:28).


Dr. Dan