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The Word on the Week

Athleticism

Amid the sporting triumphs of conquering Irish men and women in recent days the achievement of Gerry Duffy received scant attention. He won UK’s first Deca Ironman Challenge after 10 days of gruelling endurance events. The 20 entrants started each of the 10 days before 6 am, swam 2.4 miles, cycled 112 miles and ran a 26 mile marathon. All this had to be done within a daily time limit of 22 hours. He was so far ahead of the other competitors by the end of the 10 days that he had accumulated a lead of 19 hours over them. Not surprisingly only 3 of the original 20 finished the course! What makes Gerry’s feat even more remarkable was the fact that he went from being a chain smoker weighing 17 stone to a marathon runner who, last year, completed 32 marathons in 32 days and raised over €500,000 for charity. These achievements differ from those of Polar explorers or the endurance of climbers in the Himalayas caught in a storm. Gerry had the choice to pack it in at any time. The mental stamina required to keep going is of a different order. It is not replicated anywhere in the animal world but is a unique human characteristic. What does the Bible have to say on this matter? St Paul, writing to the church at Corinth on keeping fit, likens the Christian life to a race. “You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes’ race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally. I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself.” (Paraphrase of 1Corinthians chapter 9 verses 25-27 from The Message). In advocating a disciplined lifestyle St Paul was simply following Jesus. There was no greater example of mental stamina that that required to go up the Jerusalem he knew that the cross awaited him. At any time Jesus could have opted out. Even on the cross the temptation continued. “Save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.” St Matthew chapter 27 verses 40/42. But it was not himself he had come to save. The nature of his salvation was not to gain a few more years in this world but eternal life. This was more than duration but a transformed existence marked by a new reason for living. Gerry’s awesome achievement is a hard one to follow. What does he do next? For the follower of Christ the present and the future is with Him. As St Paul quoted, “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”— the things God has prepared for those who love him. And that love finds its source and centre in Christ.