POSSESSING THE HEART OF A CHAMPION

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.

JACOB PARKER

JACOB PARKER

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.

Blessings,

Dr. Dan

AN EXAMPLE IN PERSISTENT COURAGE

For 40 years I have had the wondrous privilege to help coach high school distance runners. I have seen all types of runners over the years. Some commit themselves to being the best they can be and go on to win many awards and accolades. Some will give a half-hearted effort and achieve some level of success but not what they could have. Some are social athletes who simply come out because they desire to be part of a close knit group. Some will try it for a while and for various reasons quit. 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. RegMidWXC 023

While I think I can recall almost every runner I have ever coached, every once in awhile one will come along that makes a lasting impression upon me because they exhibit a character, attitude and that extra “something” that distinguishes them from others. My list of those types of runners has grown over forty years but is still a most exclusive club. As another cross country season has come to a close one young lady whose name has been added to that list is Elkin’s Madeline Carter. On Saturday she ran her last cross country race as a Buckin’ Elk. In the five years I have coached her she has been a consistent example in persistent courage.

I first began working with Madeline in the eighth grade. She showed much promise in winning the Middle School Conference title in the mile. I looked forward to her entering high school. She quickly showed great promise, finishing 11th at the 2011 cross country state championships; only one place from earning All-State honors. It wasn’t long after that it seemed physical misfortune constantly visited her. Over her four years of high school running she has experienced, just to name a few, growing pains that made running at times agonizing, there were stress fractures, hip difficulties, plantar fasciitis, shin splints, anemic, knee problems, IT band syndrome, bursitis, mitral valve prolapse, and no doubt other issues that she never even told me about.

She often suffered in silence. She never wanted to be one to complain, so she often kept these maladies to herself until I would at last ask her if she was ok. She has always been reluctant to say anything as she did not want it to appear she was trying to get out of a workout. While there are those who will complain at the first twinge of uncomfortableness and look for a reason to stop or even quit, Madeline would fight through her myriad of physical ailments and continue to train and race. There was no quit in her.

The cross country season just ended she ran with mitral valve prolpase, which made her feel like she was having a heart attack while running, and with IT band syndrome/bursitis that made her feel at times if her hip was coming out of the socket…but run she did. I saw her run races with one hand on her heart and another on her hip…but run she did. There was never any doubt she would give me her best effort. She was an example of persistent courage.

This fall she played a significant role in leading the girl’s XC team to winning the MVAC Conference Championship and helped the team qualify for the state meet for the third time in the last four years. In her last cross country race Saturday it was obvious she was running in pain with every step she took…but run she did. Nothing could keep her from not running and finishing. Her courage and commitment would not let her do otherwise. While on a slippery and muddy course that made her hip pain worse, she finished like the winner she is. At the finish line we both embraced, both of us shedding tears. They were not tears of what could have been, but what was accomplished because of persistent courage.

In four years of cross country for Elkin High School she was four-time MVAC All-Conference, two-time Midwest All-Region, once All-State, and qualified for the state meet ALL four years. She ends her cross country career as the school record holder for the 5K with a time of 19:39. For four years she has been an example of persistent courage.

Running is a microcosm of life. One’s attitude and reaction to setbacks and obstacles that often occur in sports, is an indicator of how one will react to setbacks that will without doubt occur in future areas of life. And occur they will. One who displays persistent courage in the face of adversity will go far in life and achieve much success.

We can learn a lesson from Madeline’s courageous persistence, never give up no matter the odds against you or how difficult things may look. Persistent courage is the key. Keep working and be determined in your heart that no matter how difficult or high the hurdle we find ourselves facing, with the Lord’s help, we will succeed and obtain victory if we stay “at it” and stay persistent. Persistent courage in the face of detours is the road that will lead to great rewards. Don’t those victories taste sweeter anyway?

Be courageous my friend; don’t give up for rewards await those who are persistent. And I am thankful I know someone who I am privileged to watch set such an example. May her tribe increase.

Blessings,

Dr. Dan

THE JOY OF REACHING A GOAL

For 40 years I have had the privilege of being involved in the coaching of high school cross-country and track athletes. As a minister it has been an extension of my ministry and has allowed me to mentor, influence and help young people to reach achievements that they never would have been able to do on their own. TeamatEnd It has been a most rewarding experience.

There is nothing more rewarding than to set goals and watch a young person reach a goal they never would have dreamed could happen. Over the years I have been blessed of the Lord to share in  many wonderful memories of watching individuals and teams reach lofty heights and win many championships of various kinds. They all were achieved through hard work. I continually stress to those I am privileged to coach if you want it you have to earn it through perseverance. There are no shortcuts to being a champion.

Back in June the boys and girls cross country teams at Elkin High School set a goal to be Mountain Valley Athletic Conference Champions. There were 8 schools that had the same goal. It was a lofty goal as that was an achievement that Elkin had never done both winning the conference title in the same year. As the smallest school in the conference, we don’t have as many runners as some of the larger schools. But what I do have are hard working kids who are willing to do what others will not do in order to be champions.

While we won all the regular season conference meets we participated in during the year, they were all wins that were close. My daily advice was that we had to keep working to get better, for winning is like trying to catch an elusive butterfly. I did my best to help them never lose sight of their pre-season goal.

The day of the conference championship arrived, October 14, but because of heavy rains the meet was postponed a day. The delayed day only intensified our nervousness. The boys were defending champions, the girls had never won it. They wanted to get at it…and get at it together.

The next day, after a long bus ride to Ashe County, where the meet was to be held, we got off the bus knowing it was going to be a close meet that was going to be decided by a few points one way or the other. We knew we could run very well and possibly still not win, but if we didn’t run well we knew we wouldn’t win. So there was no alternative, we had to run well. The course was muddy from two days of rain, but since we practice in all kinds of weather I figured that would favor us.

After four months of practicing in the heat of the summer, sometimes in the rain, practice  six days a week, dealing with nagging aches and pains, the moment had come. The Elkin runners now stood on the starting line eagerly waiting for the gun to sound to begin the  5K (3.1 mile) race.  As the pistol cracked in the still air, all the runners took off at a torrid pace, jockeying for position. One thing I knew for sure the Elkin runners would give their best effort……and they did.

To make a long story short, when the dust settled from both the boys and girls races the Elkin runners raced like they had been trained to and had dug deep inside of themselves to capture two close wins. The boys winning 52-58 and the girls winning 56-59 (low score wins in cross-country). They were now experiencing the joy of reaching a goal. They were experiencing the reward of hard work. They were reaping the fruit of discipline and persistence. I could not have been more proud of them. Matter of fact, their accomplishment brought me to tears and in a voice filled with emotion I said to them of their superb efforts, “A job well done.” For my desire for  them had been  that they might experience the joy of being a champion. Only those who work hard have that opportunity to experience the jubilation of reaching such a goal.

I have often said that running is a microcosm of life. I seek to teach my athletes that running is like life, you get out of life what you put into it. If you set goals and work hard good things happen. We may not always reach our goals, but we come a lot closer than if we have no goals at all. And if you keep setting goals and working toward them in time you will reap abundant fruit from your labor. We must ever be diligent, persistent, consistent, and determined if we are going to overcome obstacles and hurdles that arise in our lives. But good things happen to those who don’t give up and are persistent. Keep at it and don’t throw in the towel. As your Heavenly Coach speaks words of encouragement to you, dig deep within and you will find His strength to continue racing toward the finishline.

Like the Apostle Paul we must keep pressing toward the goal of being all the Lord wants us to be and do. That is a lifelong journey and commitment. Keep on keeping on and on that Final Day we will discover the joy of reaching our Goal and hearing the Master say, “A job well done.”

Blessings,

Dr. Dan

RUNNING WITHOUT A SPIRITUAL LIMB

Around daybreak on Monday morning I was nearing the end of my daily run at Elkin Park, when an incident I always dread occurred. The running trail is covered with rock dust which contains small grains that can often get in your shoes. From time to time some of the grains of rock dust have gotten in my shoes requiring me to stop and shake them out. cartoon_running

Monday, with only about three minutes to go in my 45 minute run, a rock grain found its way into my shoe and got underneath my heel. Though only about the size of a pin head, it shot pain into my heel each time my foot struck the ground. Almost finished I didn’t want to stop to remove it from my shoe, so I altered my foot plant and favored the other leg a bit so the rock grain wouldn’t prick my heel with each step. I finished the run with a “hitch in my get-a-long.” If someone had seen me finishing the run it would have appeared to them as if I was running with a limp. Soon as I stopped I removed the rock grain and all was back to normal.

Thinking about the incident, I wonder how many times “spiritual rock grains” have made their way into our spiritual lives causing us to run the Christian race with a spiritual limp. The author of Hebrews warns us in our relationship with the Lord to be wise to watch out for those “rock grains” which can hinder us in our spiritual journey (Hebrews 12:1). We must not ignore them when they enter our lives or simply adjust our walk to accommodate them. The inspired writer goes on to advise us, “And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way, but let it rather be healed” (Heb. 12:13). We must pray for a sensitive spirit that our “spiritual heels” will detect when spiritual irritants seek to interject themselves into our lives.

The story is told of the eloquent British preacher Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892), who could be seen daily walking the London streets. On one occasion, as he was walking across a less than busy city thoroughfare, he suddenly stopped in the middle of the street and was seen bowing his head. Upon completion of his silent prayer, as he made his way to the other side, someone asked him why he  stopped in the middle of the street to pray. Spurgeon’s reply was, “A cloud briefly came over my soul in my communion with the Lord and I didn’t want to continue until it was lifted.” You might say he had stopped to remove an irritant that if neglected could have resulted in developing a spiritual limp in his walk with the Lord.

How about you and I? Are there “spiritual rock grains” seeking to intrude under our spiritual heels seeking to cause a spiritual limp to develop in our walk with Lord? Is it a trial, a temptation, a testing, a wrong relationship, a  secret sin, or a “tiny” trouble that has sought to alter our walk with Him? Let us not adjust our walk to accommodate spiritual irritants, but quickly remove them so as not to hinder our relationship with Him.

Turning to Hebrews again for encouragement, let us keep “looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). As we keep our eyes on Him we can finish our Christian race in victory without a trace of a limp.

Blessings,

Dr. Dan

DON’T GET DISQUALIFIED

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).

Blessings,

Dr. Dan

WHAT HE DID HE DID FOR ALL

Yesterday the 118th running of the Boston Marathon was held. It is the most famous marathon (26.2 miles) in the world. The race was won by American Meb Keflezighi. It was the first time since 1983 that an American won the grueling test of endurance. Meb’s story is truly remarkable and inspirational. Born in Eritrea, he and his family were refugees who came to the United States in 1987 when he was 12 years old. He began running in middle school and quickly showed great promise. Attending UCLA on a track scholarship, he won four NCAA championships. In the fall of 1996 I was privileged to watch Meb win the NCAA Cross Country Championships which was held in South Carolina. After the race I had my picture made with him and got his autograph. He became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1998. He went on to capture for the USA a silver medal in the 2004 Olympics. Though his running career has been filled with much success, he has also had his share of disappointments and injuries.

American Meb Keflezighi's  final stride of  his emotional Boston victory

American Meb Keflezighi’s final stride of his emotional Boston victory

In an interview after the race he stated that after the Boston bombings at the 2013 race he made a vow to dedicate himself to win Boston, believing that it was only right that an American win in 2014. At almost 39 years of age that was no small task. For a solid year every time he laced-up his shoes to go run was for the purpose of winning Boston as an act of redemption for the Boston people. His thoughts, his actions and his focus were on winning Boston, a race an American had not won in 31 years. But his intentional focus resulted in a victory that wasn’t assured until the final half mile, winning by 11 seconds.  His winning was like the ending of beautifully scripted movie, turning last year’s tragedy into this year’s triumph.

He went on to say in a post-race interview, “I did not run for myself. I ran with last year’s victims in my heart. What I did, I did for Boston. My victory was for them all. My victory was their victory. What I did I give back to the city of Boston.” Meb’s Boston win and unselfish gesture to the city will go down in running folklore history.

Our Holy Father, as well,  planned for victory in regard to man’s sinful condition (Romans 3:23).  Sinful man needed someone to bring redemption to him. What would the Father do? Our God didn’t send a third party to provide for us that which we could not provide for ourselves, He came Himself. Paul writes, “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself” (2 Cor. 5:21). His whole purpose in coming was for the redeeming of sinful man. His whole focus was on offering a Sacrifice for us which we could not offer ourselves. He came to meet the Holy demands of God for us and assume our responsibility for the judgment we deserve for not complying. Our God not only gave the Sacrifice, in Christ He was the Sacrifice! When He went to the cross He carried us in His heart. On Calvary’s hill of death Christ turned tragedy into triumph. When Christ offered the Sacrifice of Himself on the cross He did it for us all. When Christ arose from the dead he did it for us all. And the marvel of it all, His victory is our victory. We are partakers of all that Christ came to do and accomplish. We enter His victory by embracing Him in faith.

Christ won for us more than a laurel wreath that will eventually whither and crumble. The Bible says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). He won for us righteousness, forgiveness, mercy and grace, reconciliation with the Father, adoption into the family of God, freedom, peace, access to the Father, the Holy Spirit, and spiritual riches and an inheritance that is incorruptible, undefiled and fades not away” (I Peter 1:1-5).

Christ did not come for Himself, but for you and me. His living was our living. His dying was our dying. His resurrection was our resurrection. His victory was/is our victory.

Meb’s victory was sensational and inspirational, but in a few days his accomplishment will move from the front pages of the newspapers and will eventually fade into running history. However, what Christ came to do and did for all humanity will forever remain in the eternal-present and will forever remain on the front page of God’s eternal Word. And let us lift our voice in thanksgiving that what He did He did for us all.

Blessings,

Dr. Dan