By Dave Ficere
While in my 30’s I got hooked on distance running, pursuing the sport six days a week, once even during a blizzard! The obsession eventually led me to begin training for the ultimate in running competition: A marathon. 26-miles of blisters, dehydration and cramping muscles that push the body to the brink of exhaustion. But my world came crashing down one day when I felt something pop in my left ankle about 6 miles into that day’s 18-mile run. Pushing through the pain, I finished the workout that would ultimately end my running career. Quietly giving up the dream of running a marathon, I experienced what the Bible refers to as the “Death of a vision.”
Fast forward 20 years. With the encouragement of CCV’s Dan Simpson, my wife, Patt, and I signed up for the “Edge” Ministry’s Couple’s trip to the Grand Canyon. Dan heads up the ministry for men, and he’s a great encourager, always challenging people to take it to the edge. Dan encouraged us to not only sign up for the trip but to consider hiking the entire 12-mile route to Lookout Point and back. At age 53, I had some doubts about that challenge!
We began our hike on a beautiful Sunday morning; backpacks fully loaded with water and snacks for the all-day adventure. Our trip would take us more than 3,000 feet from the trailhead at the top down to the canyon floor, out to the spot that overlooks the Colorado River, and then back the same distance and elevation.
Patt and I had gone about a couple of miles when her knee really began hurting. She had aggravated an old injury and was really struggling. We disagreed on whether to forgo the rest of the hike and head back up to the top. She wanted me to continue the hike, but I felt I should help her return to the top. She convinced me to push on, saying she’d be OK. Since our group of hikers had left as one but gradually fell into their own comfortable pace, I ended up hiking much of the time alone, enjoying the beauty of the surroundings, greeting other hikers, and being careful not to step where the pack mules had been! Eventually reaching Lookout Point, the breathtaking view was everything promised: Colorful and majestic canyon walls with the Colorado River racing between the sheer cliffs. It was a Kodak moment and something you’d see on a postcard from the gift shop.
While resting at this halfway point and talking with other hikers about our trek, someone made the comment that this hike wasn’t a sprint, but a marathon. We laughed and agreed that was the case and as we all began the journey back from Lookout Point, I thought about that statement. It brought back 20-year-old memories of broken dreams about running a marathon. While reliving the feelings of sadness, regret, and failure, I heard an inner voice say: “Dave, this is your marathon.” It stopped me dead in my tracks, startled, but excited by the thought. Could this be God’s way of giving me back a long-forgotten dream, and His way of fulfilling that desire? Sure that it was, I hung onto that thought for the next four and a half miles.
Marathon runners talk about “hitting the wall” around mile 20 of their 26-mile journey. It’s at that point that the body is depleted of energy and the muscles begin to scream out in agony. Mentally exhausted, everything in them wants to quit. My wall came at about mile eight, more than one mile from the next water stop, and four miles from the end. Every step became a challenge and it seemed to take forever to get to the rest stop. Finally, it came. A chance to sit down, drink more water, eat an orange and relax for a moment. I wondered about making it the rest of the way.
Trudging on toward the next water stop about two miles away, the climb became steeper and the agony greater. I would take two steps and stop, then five steps and sit down. Other people shouted words of encouragement along the way, while that inner voice kept whispering that this was my marathon, exhorting me to push through the wall of exhaustion. Finally, I reached the final water stop at about the 10 and a half-mile mark. Fellow Edge members encouraged one another that we had almost accomplished our goal.
The last 1.5 miles was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and forced me to repeatedly cry out to God for strength. I’d take one more step, thinking about and visualizing the finish line. Each switchback looked steeper than the last one and challenged my already depleted energy.
With about one mile to go, the sounds of cheers could be heard from the top of the Canyon. Patt and other members of our group were watching for hikers wearing the bright red “Edge” t-shirts, and cheering as they spotted us. Energized and excited, I remembered the Bible passage about our fellow believers and the angels applauding us on from heaven as we run our race here on Earth. “This is your marathon, take one more step,” my inner voice kept reminding me. Finally turning the last the corner there it was: the final 200 yards of the trail. It was now close to 4:00 p.m., eight and a half hours from when I started. Victory was now only a few steps away.
Crossing the finish line, I began crying uncontrollably, thanking and praising God for restoring my “impossible dream.” As Patt embraced me and the other hikers greeted and congratulated me with excitement, I immediately thought of Jesus welcoming us home to Heaven, telling us we’ve “done well and finished the race.”
As the rest of our group finished, we all celebrated accomplishing a tremendous feat. It didn’t matter whether someone had gone the entire 12 miles or a shorter distance. We had all conquered the Canyon and pushed ourselves beyond what we thought we could do. It was a great lesson in perseverance, of finishing the course, encouraging others, and depending on God, and echoed what the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 3:13-14. For me, it was a reminder that if God gives you a dream, hang onto it, but realize that He may choose to accomplish it in a way you never dreamed of. The Grand Canyon adventure was a profound reminder that God is faithful in giving us more than we can ask or think and that He wants us to stretch our faith muscles beyond what we can do through our own abilities. By doing so, we’re forced to trust Him and give Him the glory for the “Canyon” adventure He has for each of us.