Excerpted from Running with Joy:
My favorite runner is my wife, Sara! In high school, I admired Sara for her amazing running ability. But at the Footlocker National Regional Meet in our junior year, I saw the heart behind the athlete. Sara had been a phenom since she was a freshman in high school (she was the first girl in California to win four state cross-country titles) and was one of the favorites to win the national title. However, at the Western Regional meet she had an uncharacteristically off day, finished tenth, and failed to qualify for the finals.
If I were in her shoes, I would have jogged from the finish line straight to the car and been home before the award ceremony began, but not Sara. She had a good cry and then graciously congratulated every one of the girls who qualified for nationals. Sara is truly gracious in victory and defeat, and for this and many other qualities, she is a hero to me.
I grew up admiring Eric Liddell (from the classic running movie Chariots of Fire). He was known for his great running passion and deep faith. I didn’t know exactly how to integrate my faith and my running, but I knew from Eric’s example that it was possible. He gave the world a glimpse of what is possible on the track with God.
I also admired Jim Ryun, the first high-school runner to break four minutes in the mile and an eventual world record holder in the mile. Jim and his family helped me begin to understand how to integrate my faith with running. Between my sophomore and junior year in high school, I stumbled across Jim Ryun Running Camp (which continues today), and I made my first trip across the country to spend a week in Wichita, Kansas.
At this point, Jim Ryun was already my hero. I had watched Jim Ryan: America’s Greatest Miler at least a hundred times. I could practically recite it. One day, Jim called my house and my mom told him I was watching the video. He replied, “Tell him to read his Bible instead.” Not the response I was expecting.
Going to the running camp changed my life. I instantly became a part of the Ryun family and began learning about how running should flow out of my faith, not the other way around. I began to build my own faith at camp that year. Jim is one of my heroes because he is up-front about where his talent came from and how faith helped him handle the many highs and lows of his career. Today, he continues to use his running fame as a powerful way to help people.
Jim’s son Drew lived with my family and trained in Big Bear for three months during my senior year. Drew introduced me to Stanford and to Sara, and he continues to be a major influencer in my life. I am blessed to call Drew, Jim, and all the Ryun family not only heroes but also friends.
My father is also a big hero to me. He knew before I did that God had given me the talent to compete with the best runners in the world, yet he never forced me to run. I am deeply thankful for this. If my dad had forced me to run, I would have never made it through all those tough moments when the only motivation that worked came from a seed God planted deep within me. I was blessed to grow up with a very encouraging family. Mom’s and Dad’s unwavering belief in me gave me the foundation I needed to become the person I am today. I hope that I can do the same for my own kids someday.