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Triathlete pastor, 64, exemplifies wellness

SALT LAKE CITY (BP)–If a poster were designed to represent wellness for Southern Baptist pastors, a photograph of Andy Hornbaker running uphill might serve the purpose.

Hornbaker, pastor of Holladay Baptist Church in Salt Lake City, participated in 13 triathlons “and a few road races” last year, and he hopes to do at least that many this year.

A lifelong sports enthusiast, he has enjoyed running competitively since his high school days. He also pursues bicycling, swimming, hiking and cross-country skiing.

But Hornbaker does not exemplify wellness because he is overly muscular or in perfect health. The 64-year-old, who has adult on-set diabetes, represents those who work regularly toward a balance of spiritual, mental, physical and emotional health.

His physical activity, in fact, has kept the diabetes under control, supplied opportunities for fellowship and outreach, given him interests that improve his enjoyment of work and provided an overall sense of well-being.

Since Hornbaker leads a congregation of 400, his workouts are scheduled before office hours and on his days off. Rising each morning at 5, he runs on the hilly streets of his neighborhood before driving to a local recreation center to use the weight room, run in the pool and swim. After two hours of this cross-training routine, he studies from 8 to 9. The rest of his day is devoted to office demands and pastoral responsibilities. On Mondays, his day off from the church, he enjoys a longer workout. Saturdays, he participates in any races that might be scheduled.

A native of Kingman, Kan., Hornbaker discovered during high school one practical benefit of being athletic. On a trip returning from a cross-country competition, one of the coaches asked him where he planned to go to college. Because his father had died of cancer leaving a wife and five children with little financially, Andy told the coach he did not plan to go anywhere.

“Well, of course, you will,” Hornbaker recalled his coach telling him. “That’s what all those letters we get from colleges are for!”

During his junior year at Kansas State College of Pittsburg (now Pittsburg State University) on a four-year scholarship, Hornbaker felt God call him to preach. Later, his degree in physical education gained him a job as athletic director of the Fort Worth (Texas) Boys Club, a position that helped support him through Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Running competitively was in the past, he thought, but in 1970, he volunteered to coach a cross-country team because his son wanted to run.

A year later, he began running with the Southern Colorado Striders in Colorado Springs. In 1973, he ran 13 miles from Manitou Springs straight to the top of Pike’s Peak to set a record of 2 hours, 39 minutes and 46 seconds.

Over the years during pastorates in Colorado, Kansas and Utah, Hornbaker, his wife, JoAnn, and their seven children have been involved to varying degrees in sports. Several of their children have been runners, but it was the elder Hornbaker who began running Triathlons in 1993 after age 60. While the distance goals of these events vary, typically a triathlon involves swimming approximately a mile, biking about 25 miles and running about 6 miles.

A fellow runner and biker, Jim DeMet, got Hornbaker involved in the ambitious competitions after Hornbaker led him back to church by sharing a copy of the “Experiencing God” discipleship workbook. DeMet had become disillusioned with local churches, but after reading the popular volume, he told Hornbaker, “This is what it’s all about!”

Hornbaker’s ability to relate to him played a key role, too, DeMet said: “He’s human. He does these (sports) things that other people do. I could relate to him because we are both athletes. God really was in all that. I started back to church.”

Hornbaker said he believes his athletic hobbies help him relate better to youth.

“We go on campouts,” he said, “and we have backpacking trips.”

While he is quick to emphasize the spiritual aspect of a pastor is most important, he has found people like their pastor to have other interests, too. He said he is cautious, however, about using too many sports illustrations in his sermons.

“Not everyone likes sports,” he said, “and you can make a god out of anything.”

Hornbaker’s advice to pastors and other church staff is “you ought to do something” for physical well-being.

“There’s some pressure in ministry,” he said. “There are problems anywhere if you work with human beings.”

Not everyone needs to be a triathlete or participate in as many sports as he enjoys, Hornbaker said, but working out makes him “feel better. I think better. And I experience the emotional benefit.”

At 64, he said almost apologetically, “I’m not able to compete like I used to. But I still love it, even with some slacking off of the competition.

“You ought to do something,” Hornbaker urges others in ministry. “It doesn’t take all that much activity to wind up being good for you.”

Last year, the Baptist Sunday School Board enlarged its services to ministers and their families through the addition of wellness consultation as a part of LeaderCare, the Sunday School Board’s strategy to assist ministers in personal development.

Tommy Yessick, who leads the wellness thrust, said Hornbaker “is able to be involved in various areas of the whole church. He joins in activities from church softball games to good-natured teasing.

“He doesn’t take himself so seriously that he cannot relate in a real way. His humor, exercise, dedication to his calling and involvement with family help him be an example of a well-balanced minister,” Yessick observed.

Information on wellness resources, services and events for ministers, their spouses and their families may be obtained by contacting Yessick at the Sunday School Board at (615) 251-3846 or by electronic mail at [email protected].

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  • Charles Willis