Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Mountain Top Spartan's Journal Page

How do you describe a "mountaintop" experience? You can tell people about it, you can describe in great detail each element. You can show them your scars or pictures. Some folks will be drawn into the storyline or experience with you; some may think you’re cool or weird. But when the sun sets, when the calendar changes, it is only you, maybe a group of folks who were there with you, who really get to log the experience into their life journal. 

A "mountaintop" experience to me is one that changes you from the inside. I have never experienced one that was not a spiritual event when I had them. They change how I think, how I treat others, how I spend my time. But the point is they change you in a deep way. I have had a small handful of MT experiences in the last five or so years, the most recent one was with my youngest son, and it was amazing. 

The morning air was cool at 6 a.m. The sun was threatening to light the horizon as we loaded into the truck to make the drive. My youngest, Jon-Michael (JM-14), his friend Ethan (15), Jeff and me. Jeff and I were the oldies in the truck; he is early 40s and I am 53. We were all signed up and have been planning to race in the Spartan Race, a grueling obstacle race of around six miles through the Hill Country of Texas. Climbing walls, running, climbing more walls, carrying or dragging concrete blocks, crawling through narrow pipes, rolling under barbed wire through the mud, scaling more walls and the list went on. Brutal. 

Why do you choose to do something like this? Why does anyone want to do something so hard, so grueling? Because you want to prove something to yourself, because you have been challenged, because everyone else is doing it? I can't speak for my teammates. I think each of us were there for different reasons. For me, I wanted to prove I could do it, all of it, without skipping an obstacle, without giving up, to push myself into a zone I had rarely experienced.
The purpose of military seal training is to make sure those guys will push through whatever they are confronted with at anytime for any reason. They are trained mentally, emotionally, physically to be more than they ever expected they could be. I am not comparing myself to one of those beasts, but it was one of the reasons I had to do this. To know I could push through the wall that keeps me at one level, that I was capable at 53 to "do hard things." 

I was also there because I wanted to see Ethan, one of the most committed young athletes I have ever known, kick the big boys’ butts. I wanted to have another page in my life journal with my dear friend Jeff and one that only the four of us would understand fully. But moreso, it was to do it with my son, Jon-Michael.

At 14 years old, boys tend to push back from family. They test the limits and boundaries. It's not unusual or unhealthy, it's just boys. For a while JM and I have struggled to find a connection. He has become bored with the things we used to do together. I struggle with it, and I know it is not just him. I have failed or dropped the ball so many times. But on this day, this event, I was calling for God to pull us together and create a connection, if not for just a day.

The first couple miles of the race were flat out running. The pace was a bit faster than my usual, so I had to push myself. JM is skinny and runs like a deer. He would appear and drop back, dash past and disappear again. There were a couple hundred running, and I was trying to find my pace and focus on me, but he taunted me with a smile and dust from his shoes as he jetted past. At about the middle of the course was an obstacle that included huge concrete blocks connected to a rope that ran up through a pulley. The objective was to pull the block all the way to the top before you could proceed. We arrived at the blocks at the same time. He was lighter than the block, and he struggled to get it to the top. I wanted to help him so badly, but I couldn't. I waited a few minutes after I was done then took off with him still struggling to complete the task. A few minutes later he showed up at the pipe crawl. A long crawl through a pipe where the only thing that got you to the end were your elbows dragging your body. That was the last I saw of him. He blew through the pipe and up the steep hill top before he was gone.

I think for the first half he was watching out for me. He has not said anything and I have not asked, but I think he was making sure the old man was not going to fall on his face, my heart explode from the strain or just not be able to get through it. When he saw I was not going to give up, he took off. When I finally reached the finish he was already there, cuts, scrapes, bruises, blood, sprained wrist and all. 

Proverbs 2: My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding — indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He holds success in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones.
Then you will understand what is right and just and fair—every good path. For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you. 

Again I am holding back the tears as I consider all that happened that day, personally, physically, but mostly between my son and me. If only for a fleeting time, if only for now, we have written a page together in our life journals. It was hard, it was a test, it was amazing, it was perfect in so many ways and it can never be taken away. 

Seek the mountaintop, push through the valleys and ascend the other side. You can do it. You can do hard things. God will show you the way. He will hold you up. The true loving Father never, ever leaves His child behind. 

Today is just a few days after the race, but today I am anew, I am a Spartan. I will eat meat from the grill, I will drink ice tea from a large cup, I will plan the next mountaintop, I will take more Motrin because this Spartan is a sore Spartan.


  1. Enjoyed this TJ- thanks.

  2. Hey TJ, Erin from Flaming Gorge Resort here.Great blog, fun article, loved the MT experience and hope you have many, many more!