April 25, 2021
By David VanEpps
Several years ago, my friend, Mike, and I were discussing our mutual weight loss goals. I was easily 50 pounds overweight and struggling with high everything: blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, sugar. You name it – if I had it, it was high. He encouraged me to try a spin class at our company gym. As an avid weightlifter and powerlifter, the word cardio had always been a four-letter word to me. I was big and strong, but unfortunately, I was also obese. My concept of fitness was focused solely on the musculoskeletal system, and it completely ignored the cardiorespiratory aspects. The idea of a spin class terrified me.
I was afraid to step out of my comfort zone, but Mike convinced me to try it and I found I liked it. The power I had acquired from years of squats and deadlifts translated nicely into power on the bike.
After class, the instructor stopped me to chat for a bit. He said I had great power, which could make me an excellent cyclist. I was skeptical but agreed to come back. After the second class, the instructor again told me he would like to work with me, and he asked me to join his team of Ironman trainees. Whoa, time out! This was a bad idea.
Are You Kidding?
I had never heard of an Ironman, and I certainly didn’t realize I’d just walked into a cardio nightmare. The instructor explained to me that the spin class was designed for Ironman trainees and that most of the class consisted of seasoned triathletes in pursuit of an Ironman triathlon. An Ironman triathlon is a 140.6-mile race that entails a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike segment, and a 26.2-mile run. Yikes.
He asked me to join.
The answer to my spin instructor about joining his team was easy. No. The word triathlete is broken into two words, “tri” meaning three and “athlete” meaning a person who is proficient in sports and other forms of physical exercise. In this case, the word “tri” also implies three sports: swimming, cycling, and running. I had no experience as a cyclist, I didn’t know how to swim, and the last time I had tried running, I tore my calf so severely that the health care professionals all agreed I would never run again.
This wasn’t going to happen.
I went home feeling good about the fact that the instructor seemed to think I had potential as an athlete. But I felt better about the fact that I emphatically said no and didn’t commit myself to something for which I neither had the aptitude nor the desire.
Until…I got restless. That evening, I became very restless. I was new to my faith and didn’t fully know the voice of God, but it was Him. This restlessness turned into a nudge, and I felt like I should be considering the sport of triathlon. I just couldn’t figure out why God would nudge me to do something like this.
Suddenly, the words “Hope Water Project” began racing through my mind. Hope Water Project (HWP) is a non-profit, started by Kensington Church, that aims to share the love of Jesus by drilling wells in communities that lack access to clean water. Athletes sign up for endurance events and solicit donations for their participation. That whole night, I hardly slept as my mind wrestled with the idea of triathlon and HWP.
I Ran from God
My saving grace was that at the time, HWP was an organization of runners and walkers, not triathletes. Thankfully, they didn’t participate in any non-running events, so I thought I was off the hook. I kept praying to God that if it was His voice asking me to act on this triathlon madness, that He would stop. I did NOT want to do this.
Every argument I came up with was met with some type of counterargument. The more I resisted, the more I felt like I was being nudged to do it. I spent the day dreaming up excuses and running from God, but the more I went in the opposite direction, the more I felt the nudge. After thinking about it and praying on it all day, I finally concluded that I had no more good excuses and that maybe I needed to listen. I broke down and somewhat reluctantly joined the team.
A Great Idea?
In hindsight, this turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. I learned a new sport (technically, three). I was pushed outside of my comfort zone, lost weight, and became much healthier. I met some new, lifelong friends, and raised money for a great cause (www.hopewaterproject.org). Everything about this sport has changed my life for the better. Most importantly, endurance sports have become a platform for me to share the love of God with those who are lost and broken.
In the process, I also learned a few key life lessons:
- Life is lived outside your comfort zone. I was afraid to step out, but once I did, everything changed.
- When you hear God’s voice, act on it. I never heard an audible, booming voice as we all imagine. But I did feel those nudges from inside and knowing that Hope Water Project is a faith-based ministry, I’m sure those nudges were the voice of God. I didn’t know what I was doing; He did.
- Live a life of impact. Becoming an endurance athlete has provided me a platform for sharing the love of God. It’s introduced me to people whom I’ve been able to positively influence both spiritually and personally. It’s enabled me to make a difference and to have an impact on those around me.
Photo Credit: Xan Griffin