“GOD HAS GIVEN ME THE ABILITY. THE REST IS UP TO ME. BELIEVE. BELIEVE. BELIEVE….”
—Excerpt from Billy Mills’ journal before his upset victory in the 10,000m at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
THE FIRST THREE LAPS OF THE RACE WENT LIKE CLOCKWORK, distance markers falling behind me at a steady rate of 62 seconds each lap, just as planned. My personal best in the mile before the 2002 race at the Junior Olympics in Sacramento, California, was 4:22.40. But among the nation’s top milers, I knew that to survive the qualifying heat I needed a new pair of legs. Turning into the final straightaway, I could feel nothing—arms too heavy to lift, smooth stride gone, lungs about to collapse. Then I saw the finish line. Sprinting forward, my mind focused on I Corinthians 9:27, “I keep under (beat) my body and bring it into subjection…,” and once again I understood it a little too well. Nothing else mattered in that moment: no other runner, no other thought, no other noise. Just do my best and finish my race.
The crowd roared as we barreled through the finish line. I crumbled to my knees—exhausted, gasping for any air I could find, grateful to finish. I lay on my back, hearing over the loudspeaker, “And with a personal record time of 4:07.02, a surprise bronze medal, Tommy Swindol!”
The Toughest Opponent
Every race I run has moments when I feel there is no way I can lose, and moments when I can hardly push myself another step. But it isn’t about the way I feel. It is about my commitment to finish the race with my best effort invested in each stride.
Running brings us face-to-face with our toughest opponent in life—ourselves. How much pain will you allow yourself to endure? Will you give up and say, “Oh, well, there’s always tomorrow?” Or will you realize that all you have is today? It is man versus self, the everyday struggle of life.
Discipline for Life
Running taught me the greatest of disciplines. If I can discipline myself to push through the pain and disappointments in a race, I can be disciplined in my devotions, in my daily living, and in my personal walk with Jesus Christ.
Life is the perfect race parallel. Maybe that’s why the Bible speaks so much of running. Every race has turning points that either spur runners toward the finish line or send them whining to the sideline.
That’s life. Sometimes we are on top of the world, while at other times we can barely pull ourselves out of bed in the morning. I found that if I can be disciplined enough in my running to train and push myself to the limit physically, I can be disciplined in my relationship with Christ.
More Than a Race
Eric Liddell said, “When I run, I feel (God’s) pleasure.” I echo his words, because I feel God’s beauty and majesty in an early morning run. I feel His grace pouring down on me while jogging in the rain, and I feel His joy when running at sunset.
Some people create amazing results with words, music, or art. I want to create something beautiful with a race in which one can only give credit to Christ. When I run, I want people to see more than a runner. I want those who don’t care about running to see me and say, “Wow, I’ve never seen anyone run like that.”
I want them to see more than a race. I want people to see their lives in it and understand that God can do something amazing through them, that they can overcome anything, even themselves.
So to anyone struggling through life, anyone who has sprinted so hard that you cannot take another step, look to Christ and claim your prize through the joy of discipline and freedom in Him. The power to finish your race comes from what God placed within you. God has given you the ability; the rest is up to you.
ABOUT THE WRITER: Tommy Swindol (23) graduated from Free Will Baptist Bible College in May 2005 and now serves as youth pastor at Kirby Free Will Baptist Church in Taylor, Michigan. Tommy was twice voted “Best All-Around” student at FWBBC (2004 and 2005).
Tommy’s Running Career:
Grew up with a horrible case of asthma, which he still carries today.
Two-time Mississippi high school champion (1999-2000) in the mile, one-half mile and 4x4 relay.
As a sophomore, Tommy’s track team started 0-1 and then won 134 straight meets, making Tupelo High School the 3rd ranked powerhouse in the nation.
Ran and placed at numerous college meets at LSU, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Indiana, and others.
Personal record time in the 1600m (mile) is 4:07.02.
Personal record time in the 800m (1/2 mile) is 1:58.50.
Personal record time in cross country (3.1 miles) is 16:41.33.
Track team described by national media as "the most outstanding team that no one sees."