From Gimp to Athlete

It was during college, I decided to go for a run that day. Beautiful OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAweather, sun beaming down but not too hot. I went for a few miles and was running alongside the railroad tracks. Somehow, I tripped and banged my knee. I figured the pain would go away after a few days and it did; however, the pain would always come back when I tried to run. Like an idiot, I never went to the doctor. I decided to take it easy on that knee and because the glory days of racing were over, I thought nothing more of it, aside from praying for God to remove the pain. I had many people pray for me actually. But I figured I was now an academic, so that was where I focused my energies.

Note: this is not my actual x-ray, but mine was very similar to this.

After two years of no running I decided to give it another go – I was visiting my parents when I tried to go on this run. Once again, it was another beautiful day and I was running around the lake on their property. The pain in my knee became excruciating, I hobbled to the house and started rubbing down my knee and then I felt it: a huge extra bump on the inside of my leg! Whoa, what is this! Am I an alien? I asked my mom to look at it and she freaked out – and she is a nurse! We went to get X-Rays as soon as possible and discovered what is called Osteochondroma, essentially it was an extra piece of bone growing off of my femur. It was about 4 inches long and was wrapped around my knee, and the ligaments in my knee were catching on it whenever I moved. No wonder it hurt!

Long story short: I had surgery, they had to make a seven inch incision through the muscles in my leg. Surgery went well, we found out that it was not cancerous and it never came back. However, they completely destroyed the muscles! I would have a long journey of PT. Impact sports were out of the question because of doctor’s order. I decided to start riding a bike to commute, and enjoy the scenery, being I could not enjoy that by running anymore. I got really into biking, my wife and I even started racing. And then I decided to try running again. The scenario: I was competing in a cyclocross bike race, my tire flatted and there were no neutral wheels that fit my bike. I was not going to quit, so I ran for 4 miles carrying my bike the whole time and finished the race. I don’t like to quit. And amazingly, my knee was not hurting! Whoa! However, my back was killing me! What a strange twist of events?

My back problems continued getting worse so I visited several chiropractors and it was Dr. Scott Shepherd (Portland, OR) who helped me realize that I had been “tri-poding” for the last few years. Because of the weakness in one leg, I would put most of my weight on one leg so that I could baby the other one. The downside: it messed up my alignment big time! My spine was so curved! We decided to put in a heal lift on one of my shoes and after a year of this and regular chiropractic my spine was much more strait. He helped eliminate all of my everyday pain! Thank you Dr. Shepherd! But every so often I would attempt to run again, and I would develop more back pain, what was going on?

During this time my wife had become a personal trainer and was sharing my story with a few of her co-workers and it was Krista Loveless (now Krista Lennartz), the Pilates instructor, that I am ever grateful for. At this point I was so willing to run that I was willing to do whatever it took. Krista is not a big fan of heal lifts, so we got rid of it. Then she had me start strengthening my feet by doing toe curls! Have you ever done toe curls? they are hard! It takes a lot of coordination. And then we started doing a ton of different exercises on the Reformer – it is amazing how much stability you can gain through working out on that thing! I did personal training with Krista for close to a year, and during that time I withheld from running so that I would not ruin a good thing. I knew that a good runner needed strong feet and a strong core.

From the time of my original injury til today, it has been 11 years. I have been running again for the past 4 years year with no knee troubles and no back pain. I have now competed in one marathon and am looking at possibly competing in an ultra-marathon…we shall see :)

Eleven years is a long time to fight through an injury. I used to wonder if God cared about me, I would get upset on occasion because he did not heal me. But I have come to realize something: God did answer my prayers, it just happened to be through my hard work. God gives us freedom to choose and God loves it when we are faithful with the resources he has given us.

For the Love of the Ride

So excited you can hardly sleep. Will your alarm go off? Does it matter? You will probably wake up before it goes off anyway because of the eagerness. You’re anticipating the first “real” mountain bike ride of the season. Sure, you have ridden a few little short rides on local trails that contain no technicality, but this ride is “real” because it will be hard. You realize that the pain, suffering, and work are truly what make a ride epic. The only race you face is getting all your stuff together in time so your teammates don’t leave without you. Did you start riding to race – no! You started riding because it was fun and this ride is all about having fun.

Gears? Single speed? 29er? 26er? Rigid? Hardtail? Full-suspension? Cross country? All-mountain? Who cares!? No one cares what you are riding, as long as you are having fun. You all cram into one suburban – never thought it would be possible to fit six men with all their gear and six bikes into one vehicle, but you all made it happen.

During the drive there you all talk about life. Work. Family. Things that matter. Perhaps you are talking about these things as a way to ignore the fact that you will be climbing 4,000 feet on a mountain bike. Perhaps you are talking about these things because you are a team, and you truly care about each other. Perhaps a little of both. You love your team.

You pull in to the parking lot, 20 or so cars already parked. You look at your watch – wow – that is a lot of people for being so early. It is a little on the cold side but you know it will get hot real fast because of the brutal climb that lies ahead. You grab your bike; you look at the other bikes…you like your bike. It is you. You are one with your bike.

You roll out. You thank your wife in your head for making pancakes and eggs; you know that you will be burning every single one of those calories in the next 3 hours. You pray to God to protect you and your friends, knowing full well that anyone of you could get seriously injured.

You are captivated with the immensity of the Columbia Gorge. It is breathtaking. You try to think of words to describe it but they all fall short. You keep looking over your shoulder on the switchbacks and staring at the horizon, the water, the mountains. Mt. Hood never looked so attractive. You continue climbing. You feel sorry for some of the guys who have not ridden Syncline before, they don’t know how long the climb is. At least you know how much energy you can pour into the climb and how much energy you should conserve. You see a seven year old kid riding up this climb with his mom – what!? That is awesome. You tap the kid on his shoulder, give him a fist bump and tell him how awesome he is doing. Continue climbing. Pause, the dogs need a break. It is fun mountain biking with dogs; they add so much energy to the ride. They also give an excuse to rest; no one is willing to admit that part though.

Finally reached the top. Now you get to go down. You earned it, enjoy. It feels like you are flying. You look ahead, Spence and the dogs are in front of you. You are going 35 mph and the dogs are keeping up. Craziness. Never saw little legs move so fast. What were those dogs’ names? Spence told me there names like three times, why can’t I remember their names?

You are so glad for the creation, it is so beautiful, and you get to enjoy riding your bike on it. You are taken on a new portion of the trail, exciting! You always enjoy new trails. You look ahead and see the ribbon. Ahhhh, bliss. Such a beautiful ribbon of six-inch wide single track in front of you. So flowy! You are flying again. Berm to the left, berm to the right, drop, pump, pump, power-up, berm right, berm left, power-up, creek crossing, rock garden, power-up, creek crossing, pump, dog? Dog in creek. Is she sleeping? Catching breath. You praise God for the dog needing to catch her breath and cool down, because so do you!

You realize that no adjectives can describe the scene. You are riding your bike in the Columbia River Gorge on a beautiful day, the sun shining bright. You are with your friends. No mechanicals. No major injuries – aside from Jon accidentally falling and banging his knee while showing Jeff how to clean a section. The irony is fantastic. He’ll be okay. He’ll get up again and do it with you next week.

The drive back – you talk about the ride and riding more together in the future. This is what makes a team an actual team – the unified purpose to enjoy the ride together.

You love being on a team that you feel a part of. These men are such an encouragement and they help you enjoy the ride with them. And you honestly admit that the church could learn from the camaraderie of a well-knit team bicycle team.  There are so many varieties of Christianity: Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, etc. But who cares which one you are a member of. Who cares if you ride a single speed, or a 29er, or a full-suspension? They’re still bikes. Likewise, those churches all confess the same thing: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as the Triune God – one God and three persons; the full divinity and full humanity of Christ; his actual life, death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven; and that salvation is only through faith and confession that Jesus Christ is Lord. Challenges will always be in your way, there will always be 4,000 foot climbs, but you will persevere through them with your friends, and then you will enjoy the benefits of your hard labor. At the end of the day, you will realize that the unified purpose was to enjoy the journey together in Christ.

Thanks for the awesome rides, gentlemen. Thank you.

Beauty out of Death

trees3One of my all-time favorite things to do in Portland is to go running on a brisk autumn morning. The chill of the air instantly freezing the sweat pouring out of your pores. The smell of the wet grass and leaves reminding you of the previous cleansing rain. The fog lifting away, nearly transporting you into another dimension. But really, the thing that puts it over the top is the sheer beauty of the trees as they begin changing colors. Have you ever seen trees so spectacular? I had not until we moved here. I grew up surrounded by pine-needles, and they would simply die, fall to the ground, and catch fire.

But back to the colorful leaves, when I ponder it a little more, I realize that the beautiful colors are completely dependent upon immanent death. How can death be so lovely? And if death can be so beautiful, how magnificent is life? I don’t always view life as something so fantastic, probably because my frame of reference is so static. I need to step out of myself, so that I can truly understand life. That is relativity.

What would happen if you had a near death experience? Heck, let us actually pretend that you do die. And then you are given a chance to come back and experience this life again, with full knowledge of what life is about. I think that you would have a much more profound outlook on life, and you would probably appreciate all of the people around you much more because you would want all of them to experience as much of life as possible.tree2

Enjoy this life. God loves you. He created you. He created this earth. I believe he wants you to enjoy life and discover his truths in the world we are in the midst of. “Love God, and do what you will.” (St. Augustine) You will not discover the harmony of this life until you learn to play with it.