paulhunter7

Ramblings by Paul Hunter

William’s Last High School Football Game – The End Of An Era For Me

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Well, here we are. The last Friday night I get to watch William Story play football. A home game against BGA. Bittersweet would be an understatement to say the least. You see, over 10 years ago, I started to watch the Story Boys, William and his older brother, Thomas play sports when we started attending the same congregation their family attended.  I have girls, and I have always loved to watch them compete in athletic events, but they didn’t play football. So when we became best friends with the Story family, these boys became “the boys I never had.” I have enjoyed watching William play baseball and football, and I especially loved watching him wrestle in middle school. When we got to be great friends with the family, William was attending BGA. He started wrestling in middle school, and I went to see him wrestle every time I possibly could. I wrestled in high school and absolutely love the sport, so it was really fun to watch someone like family learning to wrestle, and William was really good. In fact, had things worked out for him to continue wrestling, I feel pretty sure he would have been a great high school wrestler. I went to see him so much, some of the BGA parents were a little confused wondering who I was. I would rush across town trying to wrap up a work day or at least put in on hold to watch him compete. There were times when he would wrestle a kid older than him or more experienced than him, a kid who should have beaten him easily, but because of the fight in William he would make it a really tough match. In fact, there were times he would beat an opponent who was a better wrestler because he simply had more heart. I can remember sitting in a high school gym in Springhill, TN all day long just to watch him compete. One of the things I always loved about William is that he would always say “Thanks for coming to watch me Mr. Paul”, and he meant it.

Anyway, William decided to transfer from BGA to Lipscomb Academy for high school. That was great for me since that’s where my daughters have attended. However, Lipscomb had a wrestling program that was in decline. William had thought about wrestling in high school, but whether he would have or not didn’t matter when the school leaders decided to drop the wrestling program. I’m still bitter about that and think it was a terrible decision.

With the prospect of watching William wrestle in high school now gone for sure, I began to hope for William to really do well in football. Wow, was my wish granted. This year began with William playing most of every game on offense and defense. As I began to watch him play this year, I couldn’t believe what a talented and tough football player he had become. After 3 games, Lipscomb’s offense was really sputtering and had only scored 3 touchdowns. Guess who scored all three? That’s right. Not only was he having great success on offense, he was really playing great defense, tackling like someone twice his size and covering receivers with great skill. I began to see a trait that I realized must be common in Story boys. William is tough. I mean really tough. I always get frustrated watching kids who are afraid of contact, afraid to get hit, afraid to endure some pain. William isn’t afraid of any of those things. He doesn’t weigh as much as some running backs, defensive backs,  or receivers, but it’s all muscle. He is quick and fearless. Every time I see him lower his head and take on a would be tackler or attack a much bigger running back, it just makes me proud. I can’t help but think back to the times he beat a kid on the wrestling mat because he had more heart. Just this week two days my Facebook memories were videos of William wrestling. I was reminded that I was a pretty annoying fan at wrestling matches, yelling and coaching from the bleachers.

I don’t know what the outcome will be in this last home high school game William will play against BGA tonight, but I would like to tell him this. “William, you are a fine football player, and I have enjoyed watching you on Friday nights. Oh, and if you get a chance to tackle or run over one of those BGA boys you used to spar against in wrestling practice, let them feel how tough you are. Man, I’m really gonna miss watching you compete.”

With the youngest of the Story boys wrapping up his high school football days, I know it’s the end of an era for me. I will always enjoy remembering and talking about the years I watched “The boys I never had” compete.

William, go out there tonight and play with heart like you always do. You’ll miss these days. We will too!

Mr. Paul

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Life Lessons I’ve Learned From Dad

 

Today, on Father’s Day, I just want to share a few lessons I have learned from my dad. You see, the truth is my dad taught me how to be a better salesman, even though he was a welder his whole life and never sold a thing.  That’s not the only valuable lesson he taught me. So, here we go, I’ll try to explain.

– Dad taught me a kind of confidence I can only describe as aggressive confidence. Here’s what I mean. If Dad thought someone felt like they were too good to talk to him, you know, like they looked down on him, he would make them look him in the eye and tell him that. I remember more than once him saying, “If he’s gonna ignore me, I’m gonna make him do it to my face.” Then he would walk up to that person, look them in the eye, and speak to them. Guess what happened every single time. They said “Hey Tony”, and usually a conversation started. They knew from that point on that he would not let them slight him. Dad isn’t a big man, but somehow he always made it clear that he wasn’t scared of anyone. When there was occasion for possible conflict, you just understood that all 5’6″ inches of Dad were ready to protect the ones he loved with ferocity. So how do those two characteristics make me a better salesman? In my job, I have to go out and try to find new customers. One of the toughest things in my line of work, the thing that scares many salespeople to death is going and calling on a new prospect. Walking into a restaurant, walking up to a Chef, owner, or manager, introducing yourself, and asking them to talk to you about giving you their business is a scary thing to many. Not to me. I will walk into any account, walk up to anybody, and with confidence introduce myself. Almost every time I do just that, I remember the confidence Dad taught me over and over. I even think some times, “Dad taught me not to be scared of any man.” I know that sounds kind of weird, but I’m telling you it gives me confidence.

– Dad taught me work ethic. He worked for over 40 years at the same place welding water heaters. Not a very fun or exciting job, huh? However, he was absolutely the kind of employee every boss would hope for. He taught me that you don’t miss work just because you are sick. I can’t tell you how many times he was “Sick as a dog” as he would say, but he got up at 4:00 AM and went to work, because he said “I can be sick at home, or I can be sick at work. If I’m sick at work, I can still pay the bills.” That’s just the way he looked at it. There was a toughness to him in that regard that I always really admired. Many times in my life, I have been sick or just not feeling great, and could have missed work, but I thought “Dad taught me better than this”, and I got up and went to work.  He also taught me that if a job seemed hard, I could look at it this way. “If other people can do it, I can do it.” Many years ago, as a very young man, I was interviewing for an entry level position at a food distribution company, trying to get a job there in the warehouse so I could work my way into sales. The supervisor told me that I would have to be able to pull 180 cases per hour and keep my mistakes to a minimum. He said it would be very hot and very physically demanding. He asked me “Do you think you can do that?” Without skipping a beat I said “Are there people doing it now?” When he told me there were, I said “Then I can too.” He ended the interview right there and offered me the job because he said “That’s the attitude I’m looking for.” I have to thank Dad for that.

– Dad taught me that you don’t have to be perfect, you just have to keep trying, and if you keep trying you can overcome. See Dad has struggled a couple times in life with alcoholism. He stopped drinking when I was only 5 years old, and didn’t touch it again the whole time I was growing up as far as I know. So, even though he was an alcoholic in recovery, I didn’t see that. I just knew my dad didn’t drink and was dead set against it. I knew he had struggled with it, but I didn’t see it growing up. Then, after a series of what we’ll call life events, Dad started drinking again. By this time, I was married and living in Nashville while he was still in Dickson, so I didn’t see him that often. Because of that, I guess I didn’t realize how bad his drinking was until it all hit rock bottom for him. I thank God that when it did all hit rock bottom, he did what he has always done, he went to work. Went to work getting his life back in order. He started attending AA meetings, quit drinking, and has helped many, many other people overcome addiction. This past year, I went to see him receive his 16 year sobriety coin. I was so proud of him, and once again, he taught me a valuable lesson. You don’t have to be perfect, you just have to keep trying.

Dad isn’t perfect, and I’m glad. If he were, I would not be able to relate. The older I get, the wiser he gets. He’s a funny, goofy nut most of the time. He finally beat me in golf a couple years ago, maybe because he plays 4 or 5 times a week. Hahaha

The truth is I look just like my dad, and the older I get, the more I act just like him, and I’m okay with that. He’s a good guy.

Love You Dad.

I Was Too Stressed For Christmas

I tackled a new challenge at work a couple months ago. It has really been stressful. I have been so busy, I haven’t had time for Christmas this year, really. I am usually the guy who is over the top excited about Christmas. The fact that I didn’t really have time to care about Christmas this year depressed me. I had to make a stop at the mall a few weeks ago for an anniversary gift, and I remembered how it felt to Christmas shop for just a few minutes, but I was way behind, jumped in the car, and continued on with my to-do list. Yesterday, once my tasks were complete, it hit me, “It’s here, Christmas is here?” After a great time with Michelle’s side of the family last night, we read the story of the birth of Jesus from Luke 2, like we’ve done for years and went to bed. Today, I made time for Christmas. As we started to open gifts this morning, MacKenzie demanded we open one from her first. She had gotten each of us a book personalized by her. Mine was titled What I Love About Dad. She had written so many sweet, meaningful things in the book, it brought tears to my eyes. Later, we had my side of the family at our house for lunch. The food was fantastic, and after lunch, we sang Christmas carols together, and it was awesome! We laughed a lot. We watched Linus explain to Charlie Brown what Christmas is all about. It was a great day. Tomorrow we’ll visit my dad and enjoy a little more Christmas. Looking back, I’m a little disappointed that I allowed myself to be so busy, I missed the Christmas spirit until today. I’m gonna do my best to not let that happen again. Time spent with people you love is more important than anyTHING on earth. I Love Christmas! The world stops to think about God’s only Son, Jesus, and I get a couple days to be with family. Next year I will not allow the joy of the season to be stolen from me. 

Merry Christmas,

Paul

25 Years Married To The Girl I Love

 

It’s so incredibly hard to believe that a quarter of a century ago I watched the girl of my dreams walk down the aisle and heard her say those magical words, “I Do.” From the moment I met Michelle, I knew there would never be another girl for me. It didn’t take long until I loved her so much it hurt. I’m thankful that she was crazy about me as well. A lot of things have happened over the last 25 years in our marriage (and 3 years of dating), some good, some bad, but one thing has never changed. I still love her so much it hurts.
Michelle, thank you for sticking by me through the ups and the downs. Thank you for believing in me like nobody else on Earth believes in me (other than my mom). Thanks for giving me 2 beautiful daughters. Most of all, thank you for helping me stay grounded in Jesus Christ and His church. Much of what I’ve become, I owe to you. I don’t know what the future holds for us, but I do know this. It will include me loving you with every ounce of my being. I hope we have 50 more years together on this side of the sky, and then I hope to spend eternity with you in Heaven.
You are more beautiful now than the first time I laid eyes on you because I know your heart, and your heart is good. Your heart is pure. Your heart is full of love and compassion. When I watch you look into the eyes of a child, an elderly person, someone who is hurting, or even a puppy, I see a heart that loves. Thank you for sharing that love with me for all these years.
I Love You Shell!! Happy Anniversary!!

Big T’s Senior Year – Football

Shortly after I started attending the same congregation with this little, wiry kid named Thomas, I knew there was something about him I really liked.
He was as skinny as a rail, full of energy, bouncing off the walls, 100% boy, and he was, without a doubt, an athlete in the making. In the gym after church, when he threw a ball, you couldn’t help but be impressed with his form and natural ability. When he ran, you couldn’t help but be impressed by his natural speed. Whether the kids were playing basketball, kickball, wall ball, wiffle ball, or football, he absolutely wanted to win and had the tools and the aggressiveness to do so. I started going to watch his football practices when he was in fifth grade at BGA. I think some people thought I was crazy, “Going to watch the football practices of some kid that you go to church with?”, they probably thought. Yep, that’s what I did. The only thing he was missing was muscle. Again, he was as skinny as a rail, but he was good. A funny thing happened somewhere around freshman year. Those long, wiry muscles began to thicken up and grow. The kid got ripped. Jacked actually. By this time, he had been at Lipscomb Academy for a few years, so it became easier for me to see all of his games since that’s where my girls attend. I saw most of his games before he came to Lipscomb, but this just made it easier. Since I had the opportunity to teach Thomas in classes at church, and spend lots of time with his family (they became our best friends), watching him play sports was even more enjoyable for me. I have two daughters, and I love to watch them compete, but they don’t play football.
I guess you could say that Thomas and his younger brother William are the two boys I never had. I love going to watch their baseball games and football games, and William’s wrestling matches. Anyway, it became very evident as a sophomore that Thomas had speed and strength that were undeniable to go with lots of other athletic abilities. In baseball he could lay down bunts and beat them out consistently. So, going into junior year, we were all excited to see Thomas get a lot of playing time running the ball and playing defense for the Mustang Football team. Sadly, that did not happen, because in a scrimmage before the actual season started, Thomas tore his ACL and was out for the season. So many people were heartbroken for Thomas, and I know that he was heartbroken as well, but he would not be stopped. He worked hard in rehab, exceeded the doctor’s expectations, and was ready for baseball his junior year. As the baseball season progressed, you could see that Thomas still had his speed. That brings us to tonight, the last home game of the regular season for the Lipscomb Academy Mustangs and for Thomas. Thomas leads the team with well over 500 yards rushing this season and several touchdowns. He has played very well on both sides of the ball and has become a leader on his team. I haven’t missed a game this year, and every time the ball has been snapped, I have hoped that Thomas would be part of the play. Every time he cuts left or right, accelerates, or lowers his head for impact, I feel my own muscles tighten, like I’m trying to help him or something. Every time he gets hit anywhere below the belt, I worry a little bit about his knee. Every time he knocks the stuffing out of someone, makes a great block, or has a great run, I feel like I win. Tonight we play East Nashville, the team squarely in first place in our district. It’s a big game! It’s a big stage! It could pave the way to a promising post season run. I’d give anything if I could put on a uniform and go out there and knock the snot out of some guys, lower my head and flatten some would-be tacklers. Obviously, I will never get that opportunity again. So tonight and throughout the playoffs, I will hope that Thomas does it for me. Go hard Big T! Play with your heart! You have a lot of us rooting for you. We’re proud of you.

Paul

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Softball – No, It’s Not Just A Game

We’ve all heard it, and we’ve probably all said it. When someone is upset because they lost a game or had a bad game, we often say, “It’s just a game.” We say this to ease the pain, to remind them not to take it too seriously. We want them to remember that life goes on even after a tough loss or a poorly played game. I get that, and I’m okay with that. But….

Well, I want to set the record straight. It’s not just a game. Softball, that is. It is so much more than a game. Let me tell you what softball is.

Softball is breathing in, deeply, the early Spring and sunshine around the diamond. It’s the anticipation that builds before that first game of the year. It’s standing at a field, watching the girls play while hail and freezing rain bounce off their batting helmets. It’s wondering how good the team will be and how well your girl will play. It’s the disappointment when you lose games you shouldn’t and watching how the team responds to those losses. It’s praying for a girl who is struggling and doesn’t seem to be having fun and then crying tears of joy for her when she scores the winning run and beams with happiness. It’s praying for the girl who loves it more than anyone, but can’t play because of an injury, and it’s watching how she encourages her teammates. It’s watching the girl succeed who almost threw in the towel and called it quits. It’s watching an 8th grader hit a home-run in a key moment of a key game and watching her dad fight back tears with all his might. It’s getting up early on a Saturday morning to drive 75 miles to watch them play all day, and leaving early enough to change a flat tire on the interstate and still make it on time. It’s drinking that first cup of nasty ball-park coffee and enjoying every minute of it because you enjoy talking to the other moms and dads. It’s enjoying that window of time between tournament games, when you get to hang out with your daughter, because you know those moments will be fewer and farther between in years to come. It’s watching the girls come back from big deficits over and over to give us all heart attacks. It’s being so nervous you can hardly breathe when your daughter is up to bat with 2 outs in the bottom of the 7th inning. Sometimes it’s figuring out how to comfort her when she falls short in that situation. Sometimes it’s screaming until your voice is gone and jumping up-and-down for 50 seconds like a maniac because she comes through in that situation. It’s watching your daughter smile from ear to ear when she knocks in the game winning run and the team gathers around her screaming and cheering. It’s getting to know fantastic people from different walks of life, even different countries, who share a common interest. It’s watching our girls hold hands with the other team in a big circle and say a prayer when the game is over. It’s not “Just A Game.”

Oh yeah, what about the girls? I almost forgot what softball is to the young ladies who actually play the game.

It’s a training ground for life, and it’s a stage to display their character.

1. Training ground for life: Softball teaches them that often times you miss, you strike out, you come up short. It hurts. It’s not fun, but if you have a team that is there for you, they will pick you up, and you will get many more opportunities in the future. They learn to keep swinging, to go for it, to give it their all, to keep their heads up, to care about their teammates who are hurting, to trust their coaches, to respect authority. They learn to fight hard for a win. They learn that sometimes it’s not the girl who can run the fastest, throw the hardest, or swing the best that succeeds, but the girl who keeps working and trying and doing her very best to execute the fundamentals. Those are all lessons that will prepare them for the ups and downs of life beyond softball and school.

2. Stage to display their character: Softball games, at least at Lipscomb Academy, get really, really intense. When emotions are raw, and the heat of battle is turned up, we see what we are made of. Our girls at Lipscomb, no matter what the situation, have proven over and over that they are good and decent people. They display a Christ-like attitude when the going gets tough. I think a lot of that has to do with the sweet, Godly group of seniors we had this year, but more to do with the fact that our girls have been influenced by Godly coaches, teachers, staff members, classmates, and most of all, parents and grandparents.

Softball is not “Just A Game.” Softball is a snapshot view of the struggles and victories of life. Oh, and in case you didn’t know, I LOVE IT!!!

-Paul

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Softball, Friends, and a Fire Pit

There are things I love about every season, but there is nothing that tops Spring. I love the smell of freshly cut grass, the sound of birds singing, and the SUNSHINE! Man, I love the sunshine. I love Spring because of what it represents. It represents many of the activities I love so much. Today is a really good example.
MacKenzie and I were up well before 7:00 and on the road to a softball tournament. I love watching the Lady Mustangs play softball, and there is no better way to do that than at a weekend tournament. I love grabbing a cup of that awful, rot-gut coffee they serve at every ball park, and talking to all the parents while the girls warm up. I love chewing on sunflower seeds. I love that moment when my daughter goes to the plate to hit. I’m always thinking “This could be the at-bat, you know the one in which she hits that line drive to the fence.” I love getting to hang out with MacKenzie between games. I love the sounds of people cheering and the teams chanting. There aren’t many places in the world I consider equal to the ball park.
After the 2 games MacKenzie and the Lady Mustangs played, I drove with the windows down, enjoying the absolutely perfect weather, on my way to a gun store and indoor range, just to look around and kill a little time. Sometimes you need that after a week of work.
When I got home, I fired up the lawn mower to cut the grass. I don’t enjoy cutting grass so much any more. It’s funny, when Michelle and I bought our first house about 20 years ago, I thought it was so cool to cut my own grass. Now, I just view it as an activity that keeps me from doing something I’d rather be doing. However, when I do start cutting, I love the smell of the freshly cut grass.
After mowing the lawn, I went to watch Maddie and the Diamonds play a softball game here in Bellevue. They won, and Maddie seemed to be having fun. She hammered a foul ball that would have been awesome had it stayed fair.
After Maddie’s game, we went to eat at U.S. Border, a local Mexican Restaurant, and we enjoyed laughing with the girls and a couple of their friends. On the way home, I learned that some friends up the street, Dan and Nancy, had invited us up to sit around the fire pit. I don’t pass up opportunities to hang out around fire. I don’t know what it is about fire, but warming by open flames, looking at the fire, really calms and soothes the soul, at least mine. The stars were beautiful, the night air was crisp, and the conversation with friends was very enjoyable.
At the end of a perfect day, watching baseball highlights, writing this quick blog, I can’t help but think ” God has blessed me again with an early Spring day and lots of stuff I love.” I am thankful to Him for that.
I Love Spring Time!!
Paul

MacKenzie – Haiti Mission Trip

Dear Friends,

In June of 2013, MacKenzie and I will embark on an 8 day mission trip to Haiti. MacKenzie has had a special place in her heart for underprivileged children for quite some time now. She has gone on several mission trips in the United States, and every time has come back with a heart broken for those kids who struggle. She has also come back with a heart full, knowing that she was able to share the love of Christ with each and every one of them. MacKenzie came to me almost two years ago asking me if she could go on a mission trip to Africa. As there are many challenges associated with a trip overseas, I put her off as long as I could, but this is a passion that is really burning inside of her, and she will not let me extinguish the flame. This year, a man in our congregation, Bruce Zupa, who has gone on several mission trips to Haiti, announced that he would be taking a group back to Haiti. Bruce works closely with an organization called “Hope For Haiti’s Children”. I asked MacKenzie if she would like to go on a mission trip to Haiti instead of Africa. When I showed her some pictures of the little children there in Haiti, without hesitation, she said, “Dad, I have to go. I want to help those precious little children.” MacKenzie will not be allowed to go by herself, as she’s only 15 now, 16 when the trip takes place. Therefore, I would have to go with her. I approached Bruce and asked if there was room for us to go. After several meetings, Bruce told us we could go.

We will be spending time at an orphanage there in Cazueau. We will do service projects at the Delmas Church of Christ and a MissionCrossRelocationCenter. Also, we will be visiting a school supported by Christians here in the U.S. Above all, we will be helping children who have absolutely nothing and showing them the love of Jesus Christ. Below is a picture that captures what it’s all about, taken from a mission trip MacKenzie went on this past summer to Hammond, Louisiana.

Jesus loved the little children and spent time with them, and MacKenzie wants to do the same.

This trip is going to be expensive, and MacKenzie and I have to raise our own money to go. You are reading this because I want you to have the opportunity to help us do God’s will. If you would be willing to support us first with your prayers, we truly thank you for that. If you are willing and able to help us financially, we would be very grateful for whatever help you could give us. The trip is going to cost us about $1,700 each, for a total of $3,400. If you would like to give toward this, please pray about it, and give as you are moved. You can make the checks payable to Bellevue Church of Christ, send them to my address, 7313 River Bend Road, Nashville, TN 37221, and in the “for” blank put, “Hunter Mission Trip”. If you don’t feel comfortable sending them directly to me, I am working on getting an account set up at church that would allow you to send them straight to the church. Don’t feel obligated to support this if you aren’t able or willing, but if you are, there is no gift too small or too large. If you can give $10 or $20, we appreciate it. If you can give hundreds, that just gets us to our goal sooner. Please pray, and do what you feel is appropriate.

Thanks,

Paul and MacKenzie Hunter

Michelle’s Broken Foot Surgery

Last night, while running in the rain, I was reminded of a blog post I wrote several weeks back titled “Thank God You Can Run”. If you read that, you’ll remember that what sparked the thought for the post was the fact that I got to Maddie’s first cross country practice to pick her up just in time to hear the coach teaching them a valuable lesson. He told them to always start every run by thanking God for the ability to run because there are lots and lots of people in this world who would love to run but don’t have the ability. That really hit home with me, and I vowed to try to remember to start every run the same way. So, last night, as I took off on my 5.5 mile run, with a cool, light rain falling, I started to pray. I thanked God for my health and the ability to run. As I started to pray for those who were struggling with poor health and injuries, something dawned on me. When I learned that lesson from the coach several weeks back, I didn’t realize that my wife would be among those who wish they had the ability to “run”, or in her case, walk. Last Thursday Michelle fell on our steps at home and broke her foot. She didn’t do it just a little either. She did it big. Her foot would require surgery we were told. So as I ran, I prayed for the surgery that would take place Tuesday morning. I prayed that the Great Physician would take care of Michelle. 

For you non-runners out there, you may never have experienced the release of endorphins you sometimes get on a perfect run, the release that makes you feel so good it’s hard to explain. It really is a feeling of euphoria. Last night, and several runs over the last few weeks have been that way for me. The cool rain made it even better. My pace was very good (for me), and I felt like a runner. There have been many days when I felt like a guy running to get in shape, but last night I felt like a runner. As I ran, prayed, and thought about the surgery, my emotions went from pure joy because I felt so good to sadness knowing that my wife was home in pain and facing this surgery, knowing that for 6 to 8 more weeks she would be dealing with the inconvenience of a boot, crutches, etc. However, there was one thing I knew. I knew that the God of the universe, the One who spoke the world into existence, the One who holds the whole world in the palm of His hand, He would guide us through whatever would come our way. There truly is a peace in God that passes all understanding, and I thank Him for that peace. 

I’m happy to say, that it is Tuesday around noon, and we are back home. The surgery went well. The surgeon, a very nice man, Dr. Yu, said that everything went perfectly. He put a metal plate, and several tiny screws into the bones to hold them in place. He said her bone density looked really good, and she should make a full recovery. I am so thankful to God that she will be fine after several weeks of recovery, and my heart breaks for the people in this world who are dealing with health problems that will never go away. 

The next time I run, tonight I hope, I will be even more thankful for the ability to do so. I’ll also pray even more fervently for those who lack the ability to run or walk. I would encourage you to do the same. Don’t take anything for granted. Life can change in a flash. Things can get a whole lot worse or a whole lot better from moment to moment. When life does change, I hope you are leaning on the One who never changes, Jesus Christ, God’s only Son.

Thanks,

Paul

20 Mile Trail Race – I Did It and Reached My Goal !!

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Over 4 months ago, I decided to sign up for a 20 mile trail race. I had just started trail running and had fallen in love with the sport. If you’ve read my other posts about trail running, you know all the reasons why. Once I decided I would run this race, I knew it would take a serious commitment to training in order to do it well. After several weeks of training, I decided I would try to set a time goal for the race, but it wouldn’t be easy since I had not seen the course and wouldn’t get to see the course prior to the race. With that being said, I decided that if the course proved to be really hard, I would shoot for a 5 hour finish, and if the the course proved to be fairly easy, I would shoot for a 4 hour finish. This past Saturday, the day was here. Maria (my training partner) and I headed for Loretta Lynn’s Ranch in Hurricane Mills, TN at 6:00 a.m. We arrived in plenty of time to get ready for the race. After preparing the camelbak hydration pack with water and GU energy gels, we stepped up to the line. The gun went off at 8:03 a.m., and we were off for several hours of trail racing. I started off running with some elite runners who were in much better shape than I am in. I stayed with them for a while since they were running at a pretty easy pace. We saw pretty soon that the course was going to be very “rustic”. We just didn’t know how rustic it would be at that point. At 1.5 miles we hit the first climb, and it was awful. I mean straight up the side of a giant hill for at least 1/8 of a mile. At the top of the hill, everyone, even the elite runners, were panting and whining about the difficulty. I was doing both the panting and the whining. After that climb, the course was pretty easy for another 5 miles. That was an evil trick the course played on us, just to lull us to sleep, because at about the 6.5 mile mark, it got tough. Among the obstacles were deep mud holes made worse by the horse tracks, high weeds, briers, and lots and lots of big loose rocks. At one point we ran 1.25 miles on a chert gravel road, all up hill. If you’ve never run on chert rock, it’s a very fine gravel that moves under your feet. So every time you push off, it gives a little. That made the 1.25 miles up hill feel like 2 or more. We hit 3 of the toughest, longest climbs I’ve ever run. In fact, I didn’t run all the way up those climbs. Nobody did. They were so tough that it was a challenge to walk up them. At one point, I said to a guy behind me, “This is hard on a guy who’s short and overweight.” His reply was, “This is hard on a tall guy who’s not overweight, and you’re ahead of me.” I looked back at him and laughed. He was tall and thin, and I was ahead of him. “You’re just trying to make me feel good”, I said, “And it’s working.” Almost every runner got lost at least once. I was running with a group of 4 at around the 15 mile mark when we got lost and ran back and forth for a few minutes trying to find a switch back on the trail. We finally found it, and I don’t think we ran too much more than a 1/4 mile extra. Some people ran up to 2 miles out of the way. One of the hardest things to deal with mentally was the fact that the volunteers on the course had no idea where they were. We were told we had covered 15 miles at one point which got our hopes up for good finishing times. At least 2 miles later, we were told we were at 14 miles, just killing our hopes of meeting our goals. Then,  believe it or not, at the next aid station, we found out we were at 15 miles. At this point I felt like my 4 hour goal was out of reach. There was a young lady from Chattanooga running with me who had turned her ankle and thought about just giving up earlier. Upon hearing this, she almost quit. I told her that since they had been wrong several times already, maybe we were closer than they were telling us. At mile 16, I think, my calves starting cramping worse than I’ve ever experienced in my life, to the point that I thought I might have to quit. After trying to run through it, I finally took 2 electrolyte tablets. I’ve never used these before, but many distance runners use them to replace the salt lost through your sweat. It took about 15 minutes, but finally they worked, and I could feel my calves loosen up. At this point, I was able to settle back into a nice pace, and mentally my hope for 4 hours was renewed. Just as I suspected, the volunteers were wrong, and I reached the 19 mile mark way too soon for their previous assessment of 15 miles to have been correct. Thinking I had 1 mile left, I knew now that I could finish in less than 4 hours. One problem; they were wrong again. After running for 12 minutes past that station, more than a mile for sure, the finish was nowhere in sight, and I couldn’t even hear the music I knew they were playing. I looked at my watch, and I had been running for 3 hours 50 minutes. I felt my 4 hour goal slipping right through my fingers. I told myself that 4:20 or 4:30 would still be very good as hard as this course had been. I was worried about Maria. She had set a goal of under 5 hours. As hard as the course was, I knew that could really be tough for her. Just as I had almost given up on my goal, I looked up and saw a young boy waving an orange flag. He yelled, “You’re almost there.” I started to run almost at a sprint. In fact, I felt like I had not run one single mile. Everything felt perfect in that moment. I looked at the giant finish line clock, and it showed 3:53. They called my name out over the speaker as I approached and commented that I was still smiling. As I ran across the line my time was 3:54:19, almost 6 minutes better than my goal. I can’t tell you how good it felt to know that 4 months of training had all come together. After finishing, I took a shower there since they had shower facilities, and went back to the finish line to wait for Maria. I asked the race officials if she had finished, and she had not. At 4 hours and 55 minutes, I was getting nervous for her, hoping she was close, waiting for her to come out of that little hole in the woods. The lady announcing the finishers looked over at me and said, “Paul, take a look who’s next.” It was Maria, and she was going to make her goal of under 5 hours. She crossed the line at 4:58, and as she crossed, she said, “I’m just glad that’s over!”

When I got on Twitter and Facebook and posted about the race, I was amazed at how many people had positive, encouraging words for me. My wife, Michelle and my daughter MacKenzie were among the people who commented about being proud of me and knowing I could do it. It really was a rewarding experience.

Oh, and by the way, I was first place in my age group! To be fair, I don’t know how many people were in my age group, but even if there were only 4 or 5, I finished first. More importantly, I finished within my goal. Most importantly, I RAN!

I am thankful to God for the ability to run, and I pray for those who have poor health and aren’t able to run. If you have never experienced the joy of trail running, you are missing one of God’s greatest blessings. If you’d like to give it a try, and you’re in the Nashville, TN area, I’d love to take you on a trail run and show you why I love it.

Thanks,

Paul