This is where the journey began! Having never run any distance race before, the Spirit of God led me to dribble 26.2 miles through all five boroughs of New York City. You can read all about the 4½ hour run below in an article I wrote just days after the race:
For the four months that I trained for the New York City Marathon, it wasn’t quite registering in my mind that I would actually be running in it (never mind dribbling it with a basketball)! Then, on the Thursday night before the race, my friend Ron (who ran with me) and I had to go to the Jacob Javits Center to pick up our numbers and time chips. It was there, standing in a huge line, where I saw a giant picture of the Verrazano Bridge hanging from the ceiling. Thousands of people were packed onto that bridge. The picture was humbling. There it hit me: I had become a part of something much greater than myself.
38,000 runners and countless fans lining the streets through all five boroughs of New York City–I planned to dribble 26.2 miles with a basketball in the largest marathon ever assembled! I barely slept that Saturday night, and it really didn’t matter. Adrenaline is quite an amazing thing when you are put in the spotlight.
We arrived three hours early in Staten Island where the madness was to begin. Ron broke out the “Sharpie” marker to write “Ballforlives.com” on my bright yellow shirt. Hey, this was free advertising! Above the web address he wrote “13 million orphans” which I thought was the approximate number of children orphaned by AIDS worldwide. The official number is actually 15 million, which is also about how many children live in the country of Germany. It was a pretty good reminder as to what motivated me to do all this in the first place.
As he marked up my shirt, we began to get a lot of visitors asking us to write their names on their shirts, arms, etc. It was great conversing with these people who were about to attempt the same feat we were. We had never met these people, yet we had a bond with them on this day. Again, we had become a part of something much greater than ourselves, and to make it through, we were going to need each other.
Throughout the morning I felt a little embarrassed that I was carrying a basketball. Our long shorts and big T-shirts already gave away that Ron and I were not runners, and there I was with a basketball in the middle of all these serious runners. Then the Spirit said, “You want to attempt something great and hide it from people? Are you embarrassed about saving the lives of orphans in Africa?” Then Ron took the ball from me and started dribbling it. A beautiful thing about people from Jersey City is that they really don’t care too much about what people think of them. In order to attempt something great, you really can’t.
That’s the thing about going for something bigger than you: when you rise above the masses of people living mediocre lives, you’re going to look weird. Of course there will be strange looks. Of course people will doubt. You know how many times I heard “You’re crazy!” That’s when you stay close to those who believe in you and remember Who it is that you believe in. All the glory was only going to one Person on this day.
Finally the race started. The Verrazano was much less crowded than I thought, and I had plenty of room to dribble. I was still a little nervous doing something crazy like this in front of so many people. But then something great began to happen. People who didn’t even know me would read my shirt and encourage me as they passed (no, we were not running very fast and plenty of people were passing us!) Some of them didn’t even speak English. They would simply give me a thumbs up. See, not everyone will doubt when you go for something great. A lot of people are looking for someone to lead and will gladly join you in leaving the world of mediocrity.
The number one question I heard was, “are you going to do that the whole way?” “I’m gonna try,” I kept saying with a smile. As we went through Brooklyn, the crowds were amazing! People who had no clue who I was were cheering for me. We wrote our names on the shoulders of our shirts so people could cheer for us. However, the cheer I heard the most was, “Alright basketball guy!” The most encouraging though, was “Good job Ballforlives!”
The people of New York really are hilarious. “Way to multi-task!” was my favorite, followed by, “Go Mr. Coordination!” and, “Oh sure, way to show off!” There were a few give and goes with both runners and fans. I told Ron at mile 2 that eventually someone would come from behind and steel the ball. Sure enough, by mile six, I got stripped from behind!
Like I said, the other runners were a huge help. We picked each other up when we saw someone struggling. Miles 9-13 were tough for me, which was pretty discouraging at the time. You know what it’s like to have your legs cramping knowing that you have to run another 15 miles?? But I just kept pace with Ron, who was doing great. At about mile 15 we hit the Queensborough bridge, which is considered the hardest part of the marathon. One mile incline, one mile decline. This was where Ron began to struggle along with a lot of other people. In trying to pick up Ron, we began talking about the Lord and the reason we were running this thing in the first place. A woman overheard us and said, “Keep preaching, you’re really helping me out!” By looking out for someone else, I was encouraging others without even realizing it.
Then we came upon the best part of the marathon: 1st Ave in Manhattan! Coming down the Queensborough Bridge, we could hear their cheering getting louder and louder. Hundreds of people were waiting for us at the exit of the bridge cheering us on. That run on 1st Ave was amazing! I had officially hit my “runner’s high.” The fans had all sorts of edible delights for us (of course after running 16 miles anything would taste amazing): bananas, chocolate, oranges, lollypops, twizzlers-but my favorite was when two girls called me over with a bowl in their hands. What did I find there? Hot wings! That was the best tasting chicken wing I had ever tasted!
Unfortunately, runner’s highs only last so long, and when the fans thinned out, I crashed! I really, really wanted to stop. But then, the Lord brought help right when I needed it. Two of Ron’s friends met us and ran with us till about mile 20. They were so encouraging and it’s thanks to them that I made it out of Manhattan. When you attempt something great for God, it is amazing how He puts people in your life to help you accomplish it. He’ll never leave you on your own.
At Mile 20, right before we hit the Bronx, we stopped to stretch. Now we knew we were going to make it. No matter how hard it was going to be, we had come this far and nothing was going to stop us. We had sacrificed too much to quit now.
Let me ask you this: if you could have one song to pump you up right before you entered the home stretch of a marathon, what would it be? You got it–Rocky Soundtrack baby!! Sure enough, the Bronx was blasting “Getting Stronger,” and man did I feel like I could have run three more marathons afterwards!
Unfortunately, even Rocky highs don’t last forever, and as we made it back into Manhattan I was exhausted. But sure enough, Ron’s friends met up with us again and helped carry our burden. The last five miles was one of the toughest physical experiences of my life. Ron was keeping an amazing pace, so I just made myself stick with him. At about mile 23, I had the ultimate New York experience of the day. A kid who was about nine or ten years old asked if he could see my basketball. When I gave it to him, he started running away with it! Yes, he gave it back.
When we entered Central Park, Ron’s friends had to leave the race, and the miles seemed longer and longer. The only thing I wanted more than rest was crossing the finish line. That’s why God tells us to stop focusing on ourselves and keep our eyes on the goal. I saw my sisters at Mile 25—I have never been so happy to see them in my life! In the last mile, Ron cramped to the point where he had to stop. It didn’t matter. We could have broken every bone in our bodies and we would have found a way to finish.
There it was! As I saw Ron’s hands rise to the sky, I saw the most wonderful, warm, welcoming site I had ever seen: the finish line! What an enormous burden was shed crossing that line! My quads cramped instantaneously when I slowed down, but it didn’t matter. We had accomplished something that could never be taken away from us. We now had memories for the rest of our lives of finishing the greatest marathon in the world. So many people in life quit when the pain comes and they miss out on something so much greater than they could ever comprehend; something so much greater than themselves.
What an experience! I still can hardly believe I dribbled the New York City Marathon. It boggles my mind why people settle for so much less than greatness. Be the best ball player you can be. Be the best spouse, parent, son or daughter, and sibling you can be. Fulfill your role in the Body of Christ and attempt things so amazing that you are destined to fail if God is not in it.
“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus, world without end.” – Ephesians 3:19-20
May each of you enjoy the satisfaction I enjoyed that day.
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