Friday, February 14, 2014

Olympic inspiration

Cue up the music. Roll the film. Panoramic vistas of rugged mountain peaks. A visual montage of athletes flipping and spinning, intensity at the start and fall-on-the-ground exhausted by the finish, smiling and devastated, victorious and defeated. I can't seem to get enough of this stuff.  All of it. The good and the bad. The beautiful and the ugly. The games conducted under those five interwoven rings get me every time. 

I can't remember a time when I did not feel the pull of competition, the appeal of running fast, the joy of pounding the ball into the ground. I had grand plans to make it to the Olympics in a variety of sports. (Please don't laugh.) The pathway to achieve them began with handsprings over the couch during commercial breaks while watching the summer games. Even my elementary gym teacher, Mr. Stranges, told me he was sure he would see me compete one day on the Olympic stage. I never, ever forgot that.

 2003 Jungle Marathon, Brazil (Kappes Adventure Press)


So, did I make it? No. I made decisions along the way that took me out of the running. I decided against a spot on an AAU track team because the girls were "rough" and made me feel very out of place. I turned down scholarships at a powerhouse track program to attend a small Christian college that had no track program. Nevertheless, I played three sports in college, and continued to play USTA tennis and USVBA volleyball at a high level as a post-collegiate athlete. And then, years later, someone said, "I bet you can't run fifty miles." I bet I could. I was 37 at the time. I am still running
long at 57.

People often ask me why I run. It's a simple question with a complex answer. Just ask one of the athletes I coach. The other day she wore a t-shirt bearing this phrase: "If you have to ask me why I run, don't bother." Snide and haughty perhaps, but it implies there is something deeply spiritual about putting one foot in front of the other. It also suggests that some people just don't "get it."
Mountain Masochist 50 Mile Trail Run (Photo credit, Seth Trittipoe)

So, why do I run? Why did I play sports all through my high school and college career? Why persist
in adult leagues and competitions as an adult? I used to glibly answer, "Because I can." But not now.

While it's true that I can run, I've realized that a better answer would be, "Because God made me this way." There's a big difference. No. A huge difference.

What's your answer? Why do you do what you do, be it athletics, writing, crafting, music, or something wildly different? I've always approached athletics--as a participant and a coach--as a way to mature spiritually. Sports teach so many lessons about steadfastness, staying the course, perseverance, and wholeheartedness. We equate the toils of training as opportunities to "press on" and "run the race with patience" (Philippians 3:12-14; Hebrews 12:2).

Rebekah's cross country team on a trail run

There's nothing wrong with using athletic analogies. The writers of Scripture used this parallelism to make important concepts more understandable. However, when thinking about God's sovereignty, I've come to realize that His express purpose was to make me athletic, to make me a runner. It didn't happen by accident. I relate to Eric Liddle, the Scottish Olympian who is quoted in Chariots of Fire: "I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast. When I run, I feel His pleasure."

Why is that? Is it so I can set records? So I can be in decent physical condition? While those things may happen, I suggest they are not reason enough. The reason why God made me a runner was to equip me to ultimately reflect His character. I have to look at my athletic endeavors as a means to an end, not a means unto itself. If I can run (even if more slowly now) to present Christ to people, then I will run. If I can attempt trail records so it gives me a platform to write about God's faithfulness, then I will go to the mountains. If I can use my experiences to coach and encourage young people, then I will continue down the trail to lead them.

2013 Hellgate 100K
I suggest we consider our talents, no matter what they be, as a specific means to God's end. That should be motivation that lasts beyond a hastily made self-promise.

My friends, run silent, run deep. Run long, run strong. One step at a time.








2 comments:

Chris said...

Thanks for this post. Very well said!

I haven't reached the point that you have of being confident that my running is a visible witness of the redemptive power of Christ's love. But, that remains a goal. Those lines from Chariots of Fire, plus the rest of the quote (something to the effect of) "to not run would be to deny God" have always struck home. I was already a runner and a born again Christian when that movie came out -- and so, many of the lines and themes have always resonated.

P.s. I just read "Under an Equatorial Sky". Great writing! And a great adventure; though I would definitely pass on the opportunity to meet spiders as big as dinner plates!

Rebekah Trittipoe said...

Chris, thank you so much for your kind words. As a life-long athlete, the parallels between truth, life and sport are so clear to me. I am grateful that God has given us the ability to explore limits and learn something about His nature in the process.

Again, thanks for reading. You note is so encouraging!