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The Finish Line


4TH IN A 5-PART MARATHON SERIES:

Margaret Okayo, Martin Lel, Maickel Melamed, Zoe Koplowitz. Do you have any idea who these people are?

Two of them I actually saw firsthand, no more than 30 feet away from me. Martin Lel from Kenya was the winner of the 2003 New York City Marathon Men’s Open Division with a course time of 2 hours, 10 minutes and 30 seconds. Margaret Okayo, also from Kenya, won the Women’s Open Division that same year. Not only was this Margaret’s second victory in New York, the first being in 2001, both times she set a new course record for the Women’s Division. Her 2003 time of 2 hours, 22 minutes and 31 seconds remains the best course time to this day.

But I still had to look up both of their names.

On the other hand, although I’ve never seen Maickel Melamed or Zoe Koplowitz in person, I think I will remember their names for a very long time. Maickel was born in Venezuela in 1975 with a rare muscle condition known as muscle hypotonia. Due to a lack of oxygen at birth restricting the functions in his spinal cord, his muscles have such little tone to them that the stabilizing muscles that help keep him upright can’t stiffen to support him easily. Before he was even a year old, doctors had already informed his parents that he would never walk.

But that didn’t stop Maickel. On April 21, 2015, he completed his FIFTH and final full marathon, this one in Boston, WALKING every single mile of it. It took him 20 hours. In fact, although Maickel began this marathon around 8:30am that Monday, he didn’t step across the finish line until the wee hours of Tuesday morning, walking all through the night in the cold wind and rain.

However, at the finish line there was no medal waiting to be placed around his neck. No masses of thousands sitting there cheering as they had throughout Monday. But there WAS victory. And there WAS celebration. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:24 NIV) Although later that Tuesday afternoon Boston Mayor Walsh personally awarded Maickel a marathon medal, I assure you that Maickel had already received the prize. He never gave up, even when his body was so tired that he had to rest for 10 seconds every five or six steps. He finished.

Zoe Koplowitz’s story is another one that I am not soon to forget. Zoe has lived her entire life in New York City since her birth in 1948. At the age of 25, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and in the last many years has also suffered from the effects of diabetes. But in 1988, at the age of 40, Zoe decided to do something that many of us will never even think about attempting--to complete a full 26.219 mile marathon.

And complete it she did. In fact, by the time she crossed the finish line of the November 2013 New York City Marathon at the age of 65, she had completed her 25th one. And every single one of those races she finished dead last. Zoe even holds the world record for the longest marathon time in history with a time of 33 hours and 9 minutes.

Walking for 33 hours with the aid of crutches and thigh braces had to be unbearable, but as she has said, “This is my life. I have a right to be here and face whatever comes my way. If I give up one, then I will have lost something very special.” She shares of a time when a young women with multiple sclerosis herself waited for hours at the side of the course to see Zoe and hold up a sign with Zoe’s name on it. On the other side of the sign it read, “Because you run every year, the rest of us continue to walk.”

Life is hard. The journey can feel downright impossible. There are times when we will want to give up. Times when we will want to stop. Times when we can’t see past the pain in our own eyes. But we have to remember at all times that God’s ways are not our ways. He sees the big picture, while we only see a small piece of the puzzle. He doesn’t ask us to be first and best. In fact, all throughout the Gospels we hear from the lips of Jesus how the first will be last and the last will be first. He simply asks you to finish.

We have no idea the impact and the testimony that simply living our lives for Christ has on those along our path. “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24 NIV)

And this, the testifying of God’s grace and our gratefulness for His gift of salvation, has to be our motivation for continuing to move forward. Anything less won’t sustain us through those difficult times in life. From the words of Maickel Melamed, “You have to know why you’re doing it, because in the last mile, the marathon will ask you if you have a reason, and if you don’t have it, you will quit.”

So stay the course. Dig deep inside and find your reason. And at the end of our lives, may we be able to testify as Paul did and say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7 HCSB)

#faith #encouragement #hope

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