Two months ago, life was good. I'd lost 28 pounds while jogging with my pound puppy Toby, I was writing my second book, and at 54, I still had comb-able hair. In short, I was feeling on top of my warped and wobbly world.
Then my wife introduced me to Eva Nelson, a teacher colleague from our church. After a few minutes of church chat, Eva mentioned her recent half marathon runs and challenged me to race with her team.
Unfortunately, my male ego sometimes trumps my chaplain card. "Eva is only five years younger than me," I reasoned. "I should be able to do anything a 'girl' can do." So, in that altruistic vein, (or perhaps, vain) on a Thursday, I paid my registration for the American River Parkway run in Sacramento.
I'm not sure why, but all my cocky ideas start on Thursdays. I think that's because I finish writing my column by Wednesday and can't imagine that my Wednesday deadline will ever come again.
Finally, six weeks after meeting Eva, I stood on the starting line awaiting 13.1 miles of party with my team and another 4,000 people. Lightened by 28 pounds, but loaded with Thursday swagger and a testosterone-driven ego, my engine was racing.
However, race day jitters had allowed me only two hours of sleep and I was living up to my racing nickname of "Chatty Chappy" when I started cracking gallows humor. "If anyone dies out here, I'll do the funeral right along the river -- gratis of course." This may be why some of them considered leaving me after the second mile.
They have a great sense of humor but they find serious running motivation in the story of Rhett Seevers who was born Feb. 7, 1997, with severe cerebral palsy. His parents, Beth and Randy Seevers, worked tirelessly for seven years to lessen his disabilities, but, on March 13, 2004, Rhett died unexpectedly.
On the first anniversary of Rhett's passing, a friend introduced Beth to her first half marathon. During the next two years, she enlisted others to run alongside her until, on Dec. 7, 2007, friends and family founded the Runnin' for Rhett nonprofit foundation.
Their mission is to "Let Rhett's story inspire, uplift, and encourage all to move into life." And while not everyone in the group has such a tender story as the Seevers, most of them do have a story in which they are "born again" after bad health, careers or relationships.
These days you'll find them running past or through their bad days as they apply the scriptural admonition to "Put everything out of our lives that keeps us from doing what we should." Let us keep running in the race that God has planned for us.
And that's exactly what this team did during this half-marathon, they followed the course and they kept running the race. They sustained encouragement for themselves, for me, the newbie and for the teammate that kept losing her stomach contents.
Finally, at 12.9 miles, when I still couldn't see the end of the road, I had one question: Did some joker move the finish line? I was expecting it see it five miles back. And at 2:34:18, still the comedian, but 30 minutes behind Eva's best time, I bolted across the finish line.
Now that Eva girl has suggested I train for a half-triathlon (1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike and 13-mile run) I think she's crazy, but Thursday comes again next week.