This past Saturday I did something I had been wanting to do for three years. I volunteered on my bicycle with the Columbus based “Mill Race Marathon”. What an interesting experience. Some 35 cyclists were involved this year supporting the Full and Half Marathon and the 5K. We were interspersed among the 3500 or so runners and walkers on the streets of our fair city on a cool September day.
As a newbie I did not want to be in a position with too much responsibility. For example, no leading a runner off course, or getting smoked by an elite runner I couldn’t keep up with. No, when the volunteer form was submitted I checked those positions that were more toward the middle or end of the course. Little did I know that rookie volunteers must be assigned to the trail or sweep position, as a rule. My assignment, along with another cyclist, was to be the trail on the last half of the full marathon. This meant bringing the final runner in to the finish line. This meant six plus hours on my bike (I elected to ride the entire route) with much of it at speeds that ranged from two to four miles per hour.
It may sound like it, but I am not complaining. I had a blast doing this. And when my seat got sore, or my muscles cramped or my wrists or neck needed stretching, all I had to do was look two steps in front or two to my side and see a fellow human being laboring away the miles on foot.
So, what did I learn from this experience?:
1) There are all manner of stories as to why someone signs up and competes in a marathon. I met persons from various states and communities across our state. I met one competitor who had finished a marathon in all fifty states. And I supported a competitor who was on a “bucket list” goal of finishing a marathon for her fiftieth birthday. Each story was interesting. Each motivation personal and compelling in its own right.
2) Those who cheer and encourage the participants are equal in value to the walkers and runners themselves. I was amazed at the folks who lined the streets, sat in their front lawns and drives, handed out water, played music, rang cowbells and beat on a pot (literally) to cheer on the competitors. One volunteer took to the street as the runners passed saying, “I’ve got high fives for whoever wants them!” They didn’t leave her hanging. Another, the pot banger, shouted “You can do it. I’ll be here when you get back!” And, miles and many minutes later, she was – still banging that pot,but now shouting “You’re going to make it. You are a marathoner!” I was inspired.
I never want to hear another Christian say, “I don’t know why I’m still here. I’m not good for much.” You can always encourage someone else. The race of life needs people who will encourage others.
3) When you step out to volunteer and serve others; or, to put in Christ follower speak, “when you let go and let God use you” – that’s what will happen. I had no idea what to expect as I cautiously ventured into this experience. I wasn’t certain I had the skill, the experience, the knowledge or training for the job. But after maybe a quarter of a mile, I knew I did. It was as simple as extending basic hospitality – a friendly smile or wave of the hand; a word of hope to one who is struggling; a call for help to the medic; an invitation to talk and keep a mind occupied on something other than shin splints and split toes.
Yes, for six plus hours last Saturday I traded in the pulpit, my Sunday best, and the comfort of my routine for a bicycle, my padded shorts and volunteer t-shirt and a twenty-six mile course. I joined a mass of humanity and was given the opportunity to serve people in the name of Christ. Was it any coincidence that God put me next to a competitor who happened to be pastor’s wife for much of the day? God had me right where I was needed – at the rear of the race, with a word of hope for those needing encouragement.
“. . . . let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” – Hebrews 12:1