Using Something You Love To Serve Others
By Ashley Randall
My brothers and sisters, think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let this endurance complete its work so that you may be fully mature, complete, and lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4
It was a sultry summer day in Johnson Square. The crowd applauded the announcement. Savannah had been chosen to host one of the events in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon series. Even though I had been running off and on for years, I had never seriously considered competing in a marathon distance race. While I still consider myself primarily to be a triathlete, the experience of preparing for that race changed my whole approach to running and my involvement with the running community in Savannah.
If you had been looking for me at a sporting event while I was in high school, you would have found me on the sidelines taking pictures for the yearbook at the football games or keeping score for the basketball team. One of the coaches noticed that when he made us run during P.E., I was usually out front. Our school didn’t have a track or cross country team until my senior year and that’s when my “running career” began. I was able to compete at the state meets and finished second in the 2-mile cross country event (as far as they thought it was “safe” to let teenagers run) and later the 2-mile run on the track.
There was no track team or running club at my college, besides that, running was not a popular sport in the mid-70’s. I played tennis, trained as a life guard, started backpacking, and took up downriver whitewater canoeing. I was active, but running had lost its charm for me.
I married Laine right after we finished graduate school. We moved to my hometown briefly before I began seminary at Duke University to prepare to become a pastor in the United Methodist Church. Being a student, a husband, and a new dad didn’t leave much time for athletic pursuits; although Laine was a big fan of soccer, so I played on the seminary’s club team.
Life as a pastor in rural North Carolina provided few incentives for athletic pursuits. Indeed, it is hard to recognize how sedentary one becomes when most of your workday is spent at a desk. As I approached 30, what I heard from most of my colleagues was permission to accept the inevitable decline of physical capacity that comes with each passing year.
I was fortunate to be invited to serve on the staff of a church that was in a more urban setting. There was a fitness center just a few miles from our house. I made an appointment with one of the trainers to help me become familiar with the equipment. I told him I was interested in including swimming and biking in my fitness routine. He asked if I had thought about competing in a triathlon. When I told him I was interested, he was excited to try out a training program he had learned about in school. Following his program, I successfully completed an Olympic distance race a few months later – and checked that off my list.
A move back to Georgia called me to refocus my attention and thoroughly interrupted my training program. As my 40th birthday passed, I wondered what it would take to compete in another triathlon. Well, it doesn’t take as much effort to get ready for a sprint distance race, and that’s all I did.
As I was approaching my 50th birthday I realized that if I wanted to continue my “triathlon every decade” goal, it was going to take longer to get in condition. Just as I was coming near to being race-ready, I ruptured my Achilles tendon and had to have it surgically repaired. There was a long rehabilitation process that followed. I was fortunate that I was in fairly good physical condition and that I had a Physical Therapist who was committed to my goal of going beyond walking without a limp.
In 2008, we were back in Columbus, GA. Walking around the neighborhood and taking the stairs during visits to the hospital weren’t enough to keep me from slowly adding on the pounds. My clothes were getting tighter. I was approaching 225 pounds. It was time to go back to the gym.
I wasn’t sure if I would be able to compete in a triathlon again. I could barely swim 100 yards without stopping. I staggered away from the stationary bike after a brisk 20-minute ride. One lap around the track seemed to stretch on forever. I started a “Couch-to-5K” program using a podcast I found online. I mixed it up with more time in the pool and on the bike. In April 2009 I completed another sprint distance tri and went on to complete 2 more that summer, ending the season with my first Olympic distance race in over 20 years.
We got the news in March 2010 that we were projected to move to the Savannah area in June. Previous moves had seriously disrupted training routines and I was hoping that wouldn’t happen this time. I had recently joined Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) Endurance (although there were no other teammates in the Columbus area). I reached out to the national director and asked him about the Savannah huddle. He put me in touch with Steve White. In July we were sharing dinner with our new teammates in his home and learning about all the various training opportunities they offered.
In addition to training and racing together, we had the opportunity to serve alongside our FCA Endurance teammates as we sponsored and supported races in the Savannah area. We helped with registration, stuffing goody bags, packet pick-up, timing, and cheering for the hundreds of runners that showed up at race after race. Laine even served as the event photographer at a few races. It was a great introduction to the running community in Savannah.
It was August 4th when we gathered with a few hundred other area running enthusiasts to hear the announcement that Savannah had been chosen as one of the new sites for the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon Series. I really had not seriously considered running a marathon before, but decided there would not be an opportunity that would be more convenient. However, if I was going to do it well; I knew that I was going to need some help preparing.
When I started looking for that help, one of the best options was to join the American Cancer Society’s Team DetermiNation. My mom had been diagnosed with cancer almost 10 years earlier. Joining Team DetermiNation, not only gave me access to the coaching I needed, but also gave me the opportunity to honor the perseverance of my mom and dad as I raised funds to fight cancer.
I was particularly pleased to learn that our local ACS coordinator, Victoria Ten Broeck, had chosen to partner with Fleet Feet to provide the marathon training. C.R.E.W. provided the sequence, the schedule, and the structure that gave me the confidence to approach the starting line of my first marathon. Even more than that, I met some great people and developed some relationships that have truly enriched my life. Many of us have continued to train together as “Mile Markers” (or as members of the “Renegade Posse”). Over the last few years we have shared than just morning runs; we have shared in each other’s lives from births to deaths, from engagements to weddings through rough patches and beyond.
My parents each celebrated their 80th birthday in 2012. They asked us not to throw them a party, but I wanted to do something special to honor them. You may know that that the Disney Marathon Weekend includes a Goofy Challenge: run the half marathon on Saturday and then get up Sunday and run the full marathon. I signed up with LLS’s Team in Training and sent out a letter to my parent’s friends letting them know what I was doing to honor mom and dad. 1932 also happens to be the year Goofy was “born.” People responded with remarkable generosity and gave over $10,000.
The weekend I was at Disney World, Mom’s doctor told her that her current treatment was ineffective. It was time to move to palliative care. It made each finish particularly bittersweet. I was so glad to be able to share my medals with Mom and Dad—and proud to know they showed them off to visitors who came by the house to visit during Mom’s last days. I am still primarily a triathlete, but I am nearly as likely to introduce myself as a “charity runner” and hope to be able to add significantly to the $15,000 I have raised for various causes over the last few years.
I am still working on improving my form, still setting PR’s, and still disappointed when I don’t make the podium. I hope to keep running, biking, and swimming for many years to come; but it’s not just about the miles or the records or the bling. It is a way to build vital relationships—seizing opportunities to encourage others—whether you are running or walking beside them. It is strategy for using something you love to serve others and champion causes that often do not get the attention they deserve. It is context for discovering the potential God has placed within you as you persevere through all kinds of tests to become the person you were created to be.