Back in 2001, I ran my first race. It was a 10K that I trained for with a friend. I ran it on a cold, Cleveland, April morning-we only shed our outer layers after the first mile or so.
I ran slow, but I finished in just over an hour. I still remember all the food vendors, the massage tables, posing with our our t-shirts and race numbers-basking in the high of, "I just did that!"
That night, a woman named Joni Erickson Tata spoke at my church. Here's a brief synopsis of her life and accomplishments:
"Tada was born in 1949 in Baltimore, Maryland, the youngest of four daughters.
As a teenager, Tada enjoyed riding horses, hiking, tennis, and swimming. On July 30, 1967, she dove into Chesapeake Bay after misjudging the shallowness of the water. She suffered a fracture between the fourth and fifth cervical levels and became a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the shoulders down.
During her two years of rehabilitation, according to her autobiography, she experienced anger, depression, suicidal thoughts, and religious doubts. However, Tada learned to paint with a brush between her teeth, and began selling her artwork. To date, she has written over forty books, recorded several musical albums, starred in an autobiographical movie of her life, and is an advocate for disabled people.
Tada wrote of her experiences in her 1976 international best-selling autobiography, Joni: The unforgettable story of a young woman's struggle against quadriplegia & depression, which has been distributed in many languages. The book was made into a 1979 feature film of the same name, starring herself. Her second book, A Step Further, was released in 1978."
This remarkable woman wheeled herself onstage and told her story-waking up in the hospital at the age of 18 without use of her arms and legs, wanting to die. And then, awakening to God's call on her life to serve others: to write, to sing and paint (with a paintbrush clutched in her teeth), and to advocate for the disabled around the world.
Her ministry is called Joni and Friends, and it's been around for 35 years. Since 1994, Wheels for the World has been collecting, fitting, and donating wheelchairs to the disabled in developing countries. This ministry provides mobility to kids and adults who have been bed-ridden. Can you imagine?
This woman is a hero. And, the next time she runs will be in heaven. The next time she even stands will be in heaven. What she wouldn't give to be able to run outside, to hike or swim or bowl or kayak.
To hug someone. Hard. To stretch her arms over her head, to feel those tight muscles lengthening. To raise her hands in worship. To dance.
Here's what I thought as I listened to her, my legs sore from the longest run I had ever done:
I will never stop doing this. As long as my legs will carry me, I will run. Because there are so many people who want to, and can't.
This is the challenge I offer to my clients, and to you: don't take your mobility for granted. Don't take your health for granted. Push through a final set, a final rep, for every person who wants to do what you do, and can't.
You probably don't have to wait to get to heaven to experience the joy of putting one foot in front of the other, feeling the wind at your back and the crunch of the gravel under your feet. Get outside. Today. And, make it your act of worship.