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God’s call motivates marathoner in Beijing

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Ryan Hall, a native of Big Bear Lake, Calif., set a U.S. Olympic Trials marathon record on Nov. 3, 2007, when he qualified for the U.S. Olympic team in a time of 2:09:02 on the Central Park course in New York.

He runs in the Beijing Olympics on Sunday morning (Beijing time), or Saturday evening in the United States.

Prior to the Olympics, Baptist Press interviewed Hall, 25, about his history as a runner, his faith and his expectations in Beijing.

BP: For most people, the thought of running a marathon would be comparable to eating a tractor. How did you get started in distance running, and what do you like about it?

Ryan Hall: Well, it started with the vision to run 15 miles around the lake in my hometown. I was playing baseball, basketball and football, but my late development and small stature kept me on the bench in football and basketball.

In baseball I would throw my arm out pitching, but simply wasn’t strong enough to get the ball by people. I initially dreamt of playing in the major leagues.

One day in eighth grade I was heading down to a basketball game looking out over the lake and God put it on my heart to try and run around the lake (15 miles). I don’t recommend this for any 14-year-olds, but it was the challenge that God gave me — that I responded to — that changed the trajectory of my life forever.

The run was very difficult! I had to stop a number of times and I was very, very tired and sore by the time I finally collapsed on the couch at home. I remember sitting in the couch exhausted but feeling a great sense of accomplishment. It was at this point that I knew God had called me to run. I didn’t know how far or how hard the road ahead would be, but I felt very strongly, even at that young, inexperienced age, that God had given me the ability to compete with the world’s best.

It wasn’t until the summer of 2006 that I finally realized that God had given me the ability to run the marathon. After a frustrating season on the track, ending with a last-place finish in the London Grand Prix 5K, I took a good honest look at how God made me. I was finally honest with myself about both my talents and weaknesses. I decided to try out some longer races and pursue the marathon for 2008 Olympics.

This was a pretty controversial decision, both among my colleagues and family. Everyone was saying I was too young for the marathon. I believe that God created me for the marathon — but not for my own glory, rather for the furtherance of His Kingdom and to help others.

BP: What about your testimony? How did you come to know the Lord?

Ryan Hall: I grew up in a Christian home, but it wasn’t until the Lord put on my heart the desire to run that my relationship with Him really took off. Who would have thought that God would have called a 14-year-old kid playing baseball, basketball and football to run, especially considering we had no track or cross country teams at my high school?

I didn’t even like to run prior to the Lord’s calling. That all changed one weekend when my dad and I headed out the door for a 15-mile run around the lake. From that day on I knew that God put me on a mission to run, equipping me with all the tools and people for the tough road that would lie ahead.

The first thing that changed when I started running was my friends. I was heading down the wrong path socially. I was hanging out with kids who were heading down the party road. However, when I started running, since I was the only one amongst my peers running, I lost all my friends. I vividly remember walking through the quad during my freshmen year in high school, watching everyone hanging out and having a good time, and I felt very alone. It was at this point that I said a simple prayer that went something like this: “Lord, I don’t have very many friends. I feel alone. I need You to be my best friend.” It was at this point that my relationship with the Lord really took off. It continues to grow to this day.

BP: How does your Christian faith shape who you are as an athlete?

Ryan Hall: My faith shapes everything I do. God calls us to do everything we do with all our heart unto Him, and that’s what I try to do with my running. I am constantly trying to work on my heart. Trying to get it in the right place. I try and not be competitive with other runners. I just want to be all that God created me to be and do what I am doing to my very best. I find my inspiration in worshiping God, not in beating people.

BP: Describe your training regimen. How much do you typically run in a day/week?

Ryan Hall: Typically, I run twice a day, five days a week, and once a day on the other two days (these are typically longer runs). I usually log between 15 and 23 miles a day, which works out to 120-140 miles a week.

BP: How long have the Olympics been a goal for you? What was it like to win the Olympic trials and know that you had achieved it?

Ryan Hall: Like I said, I always believed God gave me what it takes to run with the best runners in the world. Ever since I watched the Olympics on TV as a kid, I have wanted to compete and win there. However, now that I am actually going, I know that I must be OK with whatever the Lord has for me on that day. When Paul says he “can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” he first says that he has learned the secret of being content in all situations. The key to the Olympics is contentment.

Winning the Olympic trials was an incredible experience for me, not because I won, but because of all that I had been through and how God had taken me up out of the miry clay to do it. Two months prior to the trials I was on the phone with my wife Sara telling her there was no way I was going to qualify for the Olympics. Training was going all wrong and I didn’t know why. It appeared that I was going to have yet another shattered dream (I watched the 2004 Olympics -– which was a major goal of mine — on TV).

After a three-day break with no running and being pretty depressed, God raised me up from my weak state to what was the most effortless run on the challenging course in Central Park. I never expected in a million years that I would win in the fashion I did. It was a very emotional experience for me those last couple of miles. This is what I dreamed of as a 15-year-old.

BP: What are your expectations and goals for Beijing?

Ryan Hall: I am expecting a battle. I am preparing myself as best as I can and leaving the outcome of the race up to the Lord. For me, running is a very spiritual act. I describe it as worship. It is a great feeling to know that I am doing what God has gifted me and called me to do. Every time out on the starting line I try my best to set my heart to praise Him.

BP: You and your wife are part of a ministry called Team World Vision. What’s that about?

Ryan Hall: Team World Vision runs races all over the country to raise money for the impoverished in Africa. We are currently working on a water project in Zambia that will service a community of 90,000, bringing them clean drinking water and latrines. It is very motivating to know that I am not just running for myself out there. I am running for God’s children who are desperately in need of our help.

If anyone is interested in finding out more about how they, too, can help the poor in Africa, they can go to ryanhall.org to find out more info. It is really easy to get involved. They can sponsor a child, donate or sign up to do a race on behalf of the poor in Africa.

BP: What’s your home church?

Ryan Hall: I grew up in an Assembly of God church in Big Bear that we still attend when I am in Big Bear. When I am in Mammoth we go to a really sweet church in Mammoth that is a non-denominational Christian church. It is a church geared towards a younger crowd, especially snowboarders. We even have the women’s halfpipe gold medalist (Kelly Clark) in our church. When we are training in San Diego we go to The Rock Church.
Tim Ellsworth, who was in Beijing Aug. 6-16, is continuing his coverage of the 2008 Olympics for Baptist Press. Ellsworth is director of news and media relations at Union University.

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth

    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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