Among some old press clippings in my files there’s the story about Bob Wieland of Pasadena, California who set a record, 22 years ago, when he ran the New York City Marathon on November 2, 1986. His record – four days, two hours and 17 minutes. Fred Lebow, the race director, said Wieland “set a world record for the slowest marathon ever run.” He crossed the line last in the field of 19,413 runners, only three and a half days behind the second last finisher! Wieland, 40 years old at the time, “ran” the marathon with no legs, having lost them both to a land mine in Vietnam in 1969.
He “ran” on his hands, swinging his body forward a yard at a time on his powerful arms, at about one mile per hour on the special, extra-thick leather gloves that are his “running shoes.”
Triumphant, the legless marathoner explained that he was confident he was in shape for the race, having just completed a 2,784-mile “walk” across America! Time? Almost four years!
His time for the 26 mile, 385 yard New York City Marathon was extended somewhat by his stopping for brief nap breaks from time to time, and (at the suggestion of the race director who wanted him to finish in daylight before all the news cameras) by a night in a hotel room before completing the last two miles.
Such examples of unusual courage and determination cheer and challenge us. Somewhere in my chaotic files I have an item about a legless mountain climber from New Zealand who conquered Mt. Everest in 1996.
And we all rooted for grief-and-bad-luck-plagued Dan Jansen to hang in there and keep trying until he finally won an Olympic Gold on his very last possible speed-skating opportunity in Lillehammer, Norway in 1994.
Everybody probably has a favorite example of this kind of “never-say-die” perseverance that reinforces our belief in the old adage that “you can’t keep a good man (or woman) down.”
It reminds me of the way the apostle Peter expressed the amazing Good News of Jesus Christ’s resurrection the day he preached the first evangelistic sermon of our Christian era. He said: “It was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2:24 NIV).
This is exciting enough as a historical fact, but he was talking about very practical personal implications for all of us. Paul stated it like this when he wrote later of God’s “incredibly great … power … to help those who believe Him … that same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead” (Eph. 1:19-20 LB).
As I read over my yellowed news clippings I see, interestingly, that this is confirmed by legless runner Bob Wieland himself. In a post-marathon interview he stated: “I’m a born-again Christian and this was a demonstration that faith in the Lord Jesus will always overcome the impossible.”
Physical or athletic accomplishments are, of course, only one of the fringe benefits that divine power can generate for believers in Christ. The ultimate benefit, however, reaches far beyond our brief “marathon” of life on this planet, to equip us with eternal life in the infinite dimension.
By Bill Van Ryn
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org