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Amputee’s testimony helps church reach out to triathlon competitors

CLERMONT, Fla. (BP)–Of the 1,100 athletes who competed in the Oct. 24 Great Floridian Triathlon in Clermont, one clearly stands out, though he finished only the 2.4-mile swim and 93 miles of the 112-mile bike ride, not attempting the third event, a 26-mile marathon. The competitor, Bob Wieland, lost both his legs in Vietnam in 1969.
Despite that loss, Wieland’s athletic achievements are impressive: four-time world record holder in the bench press with a best lift of 507 pounds; competitor in the New York, Los Angeles and Marine Corps marathons; completion of a 6,200-mile bike circuit twice across America in conjunction with the Congressional Medal of Honor; strength, flexibility and motivational coach for the Green Bay Packers for the 1991-92 season; and the only double amputee to complete the grueling Ironman Triathlon Course in Kona, Hawaii.
The Clermont event — a full ironman competition and the biggest of several triathlon competitions held annually in the Florida community — was Wieland’s first triathlon competition in 10 years. The following day, prior to the Sunday afternoon awards ceremony, he shared his testimony in an 8:30 a.m. worship service at First Baptist Church of Clermont. The church, in cooperation with a Plant City-based ministry, Multi-Sport Ministries Inc., invited Wieland to speak, and invited triathlon participants to be their special guests.
Wieland acknowledged that as a young man, he “trusted in sports” until the night some visitors from Campus Crusade for Christ shared the gospel with him while he was a sophomore at University of Wisconsin, LaCrosse.
The Bible says that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved, Wieland reminded the Clermont audience, and “I figured out I was a whosoever.” That night, he knelt down by his bed and invited Jesus into his life.
“The Lord Jesus Christ will never refuse you when you come with a pure heart,” he affirmed.
A talented athlete, Wieland had ambitions for a career in pro baseball, but just as he was hoping to sign a contract with the Philadelphia Phillies, the U.S. Army “offered me a contract I just couldn’t refuse” — his draft notice.
Stationed as a medic at Cu Chi, about 25 miles northwest of Saigon, he remembers his sergeant telling him, “Don’t plan on going back to the United States alive.”
On June 14, 1969, “our company got ambushed,” Wieland recalled. In a desperate rush to save one of his buddies, Wieland stepped on an 82 mm mortar round — powerful enough to cripple a tank.
Though he was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital, “by the mighty grace of God” the doctors and nurses decided to make a last-ditch attempt to save Wieland’s life. A tracheotomy, eight quarts of blood transfusions, steady doses of morphine, surgery and a bout with malaria followed, but he survived.
Though his legs — and his pro baseball dreams — were gone, “I was just happy to be alive,” Wieland said. He remembered Mark 7:37, that God does all things well, and 2 Timothy 1:7, “God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” And he believed everything was going to be all right.
He also determined to regard himself as an able-bodied person and pushed himself to regain his strength and become independent.
Thirteen years later, he took the first step of a remarkable journey that would bring him national attention — a 2,784.1-mile walk across America on his hands and stumps. From California to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, the three-and-a-half-year journey took 4,900,016 steps. The most difficult step was the first one, he said.
Along the way, he raised funds for world hunger and shared the gospel with anyone who would listen — including his parents, who knelt down by the side of a New Mexico road and invited Christ into their lives.
Wieland pointed out to the triathletes in Clermont that according to Romans 10:9, only two things are needed to begin a life with Christ: a mouth to confess and a heart to believe. “Everybody here qualifies,” he said.
“Why not accept the greatest prize, the greatest reward you could ever receive?”
Rosalyn Randall from Portland, Maine, one of the triathletes attending the service, noted she has raced with Wieland in Hawaii. She, too, has learned the need for balancing physical fitness and spiritual fitness.
“In order to have that discipline in your life” to succeed in triathlon competition, she said, “you need a pretty firm spiritual base.
“I talked to God through the whole race yesterday,” she said.
The service featuring Wieland’s testimony is the latest of several efforts First Baptist has made to reach out to triathlon competitors as Clermont becomes an increasingly popular venue for the sport. For the past two years, the church has sponsored a pre-race pasta dinner before the Florida Challenge Triathlon, a large-scale half-ironman event held each September.
This year’s dinner drew more than 400 athletes and their families to the church’s Christian Life Center. About 60 church members, ranging from teens to senior adults, prepared food, waited on tables and greeted the athletes. Each visiting triathlete was given a New Testament.
“This is a unique ministry God has given us,” said Danny W. Davis, pastor of the Clermont congregation. He said the church has a vision of “enlarging as we go along,” perhaps becoming involved in additional events throughout the year. Davis sees possibilities for approaches such as ministry on the Lake Minehaha beach where the triathletes gather, various kinds of service ministries and informal chapel services.

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  • Shari Schubert