Excerpted from Running with Joy:
I have always been a dreamer. My siblings and I all played some kind of sport growing up. My dad pitched for Pepperdine University and was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles. As a kid, I wanted to follow in his footsteps—my dream was to be a pitcher in the major leagues, to one day stand out on the mound at Fenway Park—but as a five-foot tall middle schooler who barely tipped the scale into the triple digits, I spent most of my time sitting on the bench in basketball and football. I practiced pitching for hours in my backyard, usually throwing a tennis ball against the side of our house, inadvertently crushing all our Christmas lights in the process. Despite my work ethic, I struggled to get a fastball past my bigger and stronger peers.
In those days, my only athletic success seemed to be running the mile in PE. I broke the school record, running a 5:32 as an eighth grader, but I didn’t enjoy it. My dad was a triathlete and solid marathoner (around three hours), and he could see my God-given ability before I could. In fact, he told me I could be a world-class runner if I wanted. But I really wasn’t interested in any sport that didn’t have a ball—that is, until a normal car ride to a basketball game turned visionary.
I was 13, starting out the window of a Suburban full of rowdy, we just-got-out-of-school-early teammates. But I wasn’t feeling it. I was gazing out the window and daydreaming when I was suddenly overwhelmed with a crazy urge to run around the lake. The feeling is hard to describe—it was a vision from God, an unveiling, a seed He planted in me. In a moment, I could hardly wait to do something I would previously never have enjoyed. The desire was intense. (I experienced a similar moment years later when I first seriously considered moving up from the track to the marathon.)
The Saturday morning after that ride in the Suburban, I laced up my basketball shoes and headed out the door with my dad (who was curiously supportive of my bizarre idea) for what would prove to be a painful and slow 15-mile run around the lake. My hometown, Big Bear Lake, California, offers many cool things to do—skiing and snowboarding, skateboarding, fishing, baseball, basketball, football—but running was not among them. We had two dirt tracks (flooded with water most of the year) and no high-school track or cross-country teams. In those days, runners were seldom seen. I embarked on a journey that none of my peers would understand.
The run was hard—really hard. We had to make numerous stops, and by the time I finally walked through our front door and collapsed on the couch, morning had become afternoon. My calves ached like never before, my lungs burned from the thin air (we were running at 7000 feet), and I winced in pain with every step. My unorthodox shoe choice only made matters worse. I would never have imagined that such a painful first run would be the beginning of a running career. However, as I lay on the couch, my grumbling stomach begging for food, God planted two more seeds in me. One was that I had been given a gift to run with the best runners in the world. The other was that I could use that gift to help others.
That epiphany launched my running journey.