Some friends of mine and I, we all kind of dared each other one summer to run the Peach Tree Road Race which is a 10K down in Atlanta, Georgia. I quickly realized I was in the construction industry. I was a smoker. I didn’t eat as I should. I could really tell it once I started running because I started feeling better. Not only did I say I wanted to eat better but I realized that if I did eat better it made that run even easier.
It’s kind of a compounding thing. I caught a glimpse of something that I enjoyed and that was the sport of running. That’s a great thing until it becomes too much. I was spending more time running than I was spending time with my wife and my kids. I had just done my first Ironman and I was signed up for my second one. My oldest son had just completed his first Triathalon so, everything we were talking about was running.
A gentleman, who is a good friend of mine, who has been a runner all of his life said, “Mitch, don’t let this become your God.” I was offended at the moment by what he said.
After praying about it I decided that I was going to go get twelve t-shirts made and I wrote the phrase, “Run for God”. I went down to a local print shop. I gave them this funny looking stick guy and said, “I need twelve t-shirts printed.” I started wearing these shirts every single day.
It didn’t take very long before people in my church started asking about these goofy looking t-shirts. They were saying things like, “you really need to start teaching some kind of running class at our church.” My answer was always very simple, “no. I’m a builder in Dalton, Georgia. I have never taught anything in my life. So, no.”
I made some posters. I used the same funny looking stick guy. I put, “Run for God the 5K challenge coming this January”. I had fourteen people registered to take this 5K challenge. I looked out at the class and I said, “why are you here?” I was genuinely curious about why these people were here. These were people of all different backgrounds, all different shapes, sizes, ages. I heard a husband and wife talk about how they were on the hamster wheel of life. They were overweight. They would come home from work and sit down on the couch, watch tv and go to bed, get up the next morning and do the same thing. I heard a gentleman talk about how he was chronically overweight and he wants to be here for his grandkids. I started hearing all of these stories that made me realize that this was the right move. I’m here to give these people hope through what Christ can do in their life. We began to meet week after week and I was writing this curriculum as we went.
A friend of mine who was not even a runner said, “Mitchell, you need to, you need to think about publishing this.” I remember laughing out loud, “I wouldn’t even know where to start, no.” I don’t have time to do this full time. I don’t have the credentials. I’m not that great of a runner. I don’t know the Bible as well as I should. All of the excuses we typically make, I was giving. Who am I? I’m just a builder from Dalton, Georgia. This can’t be me. The next morning I thought, I’m just going to pick up the phone. There was only one Christian publisher that I knew of at the time. I picked up the phone and I called their eight hundred number. Long story short, in an hour and a half on the phone, we had a book deal. I was not even done writing the program yet. I had a lot of work ahead of me. I remember looking at that race. We graduated at a race where Run for God participants made up over half the race. I remember looking out thinking, this could never get bigger than this. This is huge. That was sixteen churches in July of 2010. Today as I sit here, the 5K challenge has been taught in just over forty-five hundred communities around the world.
I love watching the transformation that takes place in other people. That is what really drives me. You know I always make the comment that we take the number one and the number two New Year’s resolutions and we put them together. I want to get healthier and I want to get closer to Christ.
Our program, what’s very appealing about it is that it’s not only those two things. We teach you how to enter the sport safely. We teach you about the tools that you need. Most people don’t know that your shoes are the most important piece of equipment you have as a runner but it’s also the accountability. Surrounding yourself with people who are like-minded, who have the same goals. That’s what Run for God is.
I will never forget, we were invited to the premier which was on Super Bowl weekend in downtown Atlanta, just outside the Super Bowl. Erwin Meyer was there. Tim Tebow and his fiance were there. Robby Tebow, Dabo Swinney was there, all these giants of not only sports but of the faith. That was one of those moments where I looked at my wife and was like, what in the world are we doing here? Again, it’s just a testament to where we tend to put God in a box. That’s why I am convinced that he chose a builder from Dalton Georgia who didn’t know the bible as well as He should, (I still don’t, I’m working on that), who wasn’t that great of a runner because He knew that I could never take credit for what has happened. It is all God.