My son, the half ironman

An article of special interest to young people

A few weeks ago, May 19 to be exact, my son, Guy, competed in his first half-ironman triathlon – an athletic event in which the competitors swim, bike, and run.

An ironman triathlon – considered the ultimate endurance test for any athlete – is one where you swim 2.4 miles (usually in the ocean), then hop on your bike and ride 112 miles, and then run a complete marathon, 26.2 miles. You do this all on the same day, as fast as you can. A half-ironman triathlon is the same thing, only the distances are half. A 1.2 mile swim, a 56 mile bike ride, and a 13.1 mile run. In other words, even the "half" is incredibly tough to complete.

Guy is 14, and was by far the youngest entrant. Ordinarily, the California Half Ironman won't allow anyone under 18. We didn't know this when he registered online, giving his real age, and apparently it was a registration oversight on their part that allowed him in. The 2,000 plus competitors included some of the finest pro athletes in the world. They were the ones hoping to win the big prize money. Most of the others, like Guy, were just hoping to finish.

He spent months in training – swimming, biking, or running every day after school. On the weekends he did lots more training. But he tells me he was still kind of concerned he might not be able to finish. It would be pretty embarrassing to tell that to his friends at school.

We talked about that a bit. And we talked about how we could pray. There's a line in a hymn that can stand on its own as a prayer. It says, "Take my feet, and let them be/ Swift and beautiful for Thee" ("Christian Science Hymnal," No. 324). Actually, the hymn doesn't just talk about feet; it also talks about hands, about every part of you, really, being consecrated to God.

In other words, you could think of swimming and biking and running as ways to glorify God, to express God. That way, you could compete without having a really big ego about the whole thing. Being swift for God, who is the creator, the Life of all, became a main point in our prayers. We also figured that Life, as a name for God, was the source of stamina and endurance – spiritual qualities anyone could use more of – and qualities anyone in a triathlon would definitely need. This didn't mean he could skip the training. But the prayer became kind of a spiritual underpinning to it, and to the triathlon itself.

Race day started out scary. Just minutes before he was supposed to dive into the ocean, race officials called him over to the headquarters – a huge tent set up in the parking lot – and said he was too young and was being kicked out. They said we'd been dishonest in registering him with a false age. But we hadn't. He pointed out his true age. They'd had it on their forms all along, and on their website, but evidently they hadn't noticed. Just then, the person in charge came into the tent and overruled the decision. He could compete. Guy was really relieved.

Thousands of spectators lined the racecourse. Bang! The race began. I noticed a seal in the water not far from all the racers. He seemed to look surprised at all the swimmers splashing along. Then he must have decided it was party time, because he joined in, outracing them all. Maybe even the seal was expressing divine Life in his own way.

Six hours and 25 minutes later, after swimming and biking and running, Guy entered the outdoor amphitheater where the finish line was. An announcer on a loudspeaker had been calling out the competitors' names as they finished. He announced Guy's name and age, and said he was the youngest athlete of the day. The crowd roared. A local TV reporter, and then a newspaper reporter, interviewed him. He was tired. He was happy. He had finished.

The Bible says, "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint" (Isa. 40:31). Guy definitely was weary. But he also definitely felt he'd had divine support the whole way through. The prayer had made a real difference.

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