A turning point occurred in December of 1991. I had trained more than 140 miles per week for the previous nine months. I had raced over thirty races in the preceding year winning many of them and racing faster with each contest. I was ready to qualify for the 1992 Olympic Trials and possibly the Olympics themselves. I had only taken one break in the previous ten months, my honeymoon in July. That week I only ran eighty miles as I would daily sneak out early in the morning while my bride still slept and get my twelve milers in. Yeah, what a swell guy I was. All this while taking a fourteen hour per semester graduate load and having a full time corporate exercise scientist job. Lucky for Louise, my wife, to marry such a relaxed and balanced guy (cough, cough)!
Once in August, after dragging her to yet another race and trying to explain away the obsession as the focus of elite sport, I made a declaration. “If God didn’t want me to race in the Olympics, then I would get injured, let’s leave it to Him”, I said.
I had no idea, He would take me so seriously! It was the Rocket City Marathon in Huntsville, Alabama. A flat and fast course with cool December air and usually no wind. My wife had gone on ahead finishing up an advertising job in that area while I made the trek mid-week. As I was driving through West Memphis, Tennessee on that rainy Wednesday night on my way to the race, an 18 wheeler (large lorry for my international friends) struck my car and crushed it against a cement wall while traveling at 60 mph. He drug my car for more than 800 yards before it was so disabled it broke free and he continued on his way never knowing until the police caught him several hours later.
During the accident, instead of considering the danger to my life, my relationship with God, or the loss of our vehicle, I was consumed with thoughts of affected performance in my race on Saturday. I felt a little off physically in my left hip, but we have since learned that my pain tolerance is a bit wacked from all the years of sports and racing, so I didn’t really pay attention to it.
On raceday, I took off, feeling fairly good and helped set the pace with the lead group for the first five miles or so. It was my wife’s home town, so her family were all out with encouraging signs with “Barcelona or Bust” (Barcelona, Spain was the host for the 1992 Olympics). They didn’t see me again until the 10th mile. In the interim, God and I had a conversation as the previously unknown crack in the head of my femur continued to widen and bring my racing and Olympic hopes to a grinding halt. The wreck had done me in. Amazing that I walked away from that accident with my life. Miraculous that I had walked away with just a small fracture in my left hip. I pulled off the course at mile ten, got in the van with the family and simply said, “Well, He has spoken, and I guess the Olympics aren’t to be.” I was devastated, but, He had a plan to heal that too. He was redirecting me. I had been so consumed with what I desired, that my pursuits had become gods unto themselves that I worshipped daily. It was in this loss, and the redirecting, that I won. I was not yet ready to go to Africa as a missionary, but I was ready to choose Him over me.
Mark 8:32-34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.
About the healing. Eleven years afterwards, in Togo, West Africa, during our misson team’s training session, our team was encouraging each other. It came someone’s turn to encourage me. In this moment they talked of my determination and persistence and I expressed guilt and remorse that sometimes this “gift” from God had led me beyond His will to pursue my own desires. I gave the example of my career in racing while accidentally expressing deep remorse and loss. Other teammates spoke up to ask where I had been injured. I said, “In my left hip.” They then spoke of a couple in Arizona that had been praying for the Togolese people, who even though they did not know me, had, while praying seen me lying on the ground and God call out my name, touching me on the left hip and saying, “You are healed.” I wept deeply as the remorse, loss, and guilt washed away and was replace by His peace. I was then left in wondrous awe of such deep love that He would use an, unknown to me, couple in Arizona, to speak healing over me.
Grace and Peace