My son Evan is a runner. He is 18 years old, tall, skinny, and runs 30 to 60 miles a week. Last month, Evan ran his first full marathon in Virginia Beach. He was well prepared physically, but being a marathon runner myself I know that it is not really possible to fully prepare mentally to run 26.2 miles. While I was confident that he would be fine, I was worried about how he would handle the last six miles of the race. There is a saying: when running a marathon the first 10 miles are about your legs, the second 10 are about your heart, and the last 6.2 are about your soul.
But this story is really about my good friend, Bill. Bill makes you want to be a better person. (Note: Virginia Supreme Court Justice Bill Mims crossed the finish line of the Boston Marathon about five minutes before the explosion and was about 100 yards away when it happened. He is okay. ) In a completely selfless way, Bill is dedicated to serving others. From knowing him, I believe that his motivation is based in his faith, but perhaps more, simply reflects his basic sense of personal mission. Service gives his life meaning in a fundamental way. It is as essential to who he is as food and water. I also know that this mission is a result of committing himself to the hard work of self-discovery and daily recommitment to be the person he wants to be.
Bill is also a running buddy who has become a fast and accomplished runner. He has run a number of marathons around the country and this year has qualified for Boston which, in the world of recreational runners, is the ultimate achievement. Understanding the challenge of running a first marathon, Bill offered to meet Evan at mile 22 of the race and run with him until I could meet up with them and run with my son across the finish line. Knowing that I was not going to be able to provide this support myself and out of concern for Evan I took Bill up on his offer.
The day started cold and windy and got worse throughout the morning. By the time Evan reached mile 22 he was in uncharted territory. He had never run that far in training. He was cramping, depleted, and the wind that was coming off the ocean was in his face. The cold wind made it hard to run and was emotionally demoralizing. I know because I had run the same route earlier in the day in the half marathon − as had Bill.
So Bill met Evan at mile 22. To do so he had to run four miles back from the finish of the half marathon and wait in the cold wind for Evan to come by. Not only did he run the last few miles with Evan, Bill brought him water, offered encouragement and advice, and most importantly, he ran in front of Evan and blocked the wind. He had Evan “draft” him to protect him from the wind and make his way easier. Bill did all of this at considerable personal inconvenience motivated only by his friendship and mission of service.
When I wrote Bill a note thanking him for helping Evan, he said it was an “honor” and a “privilege.” It was a privilege to put himself out, to go the extra mile for someone he hadn’t met and really had little connection to. It was a privilege to make a sacrifice for others. To be of service.
I have since thought about that a lot. The question is, am I willing to block the hard, cold wind for you and for the people we are trying to serve? Am I willing to choose service to others, co-workers, clients, and referral sources, over my own inconvenience? Am I willing to do whatever it takes to achieve “promise, restored” for the people I have the privilege of serving? Am I willing to be a better person?
These are the questions that my friend Bill put in front of me yesterday while blocking the wind for my son. This morning while driving outside Richmond I came upon a car stopped just off the road with its emergency flashers on. While passing by the thought came to me, “What would Bill do?”
I turned around and went back to see if I could help.
Ray Ratke is vice president of programs, marathon runner, piano player, VCU basketball fan, dedicated to the people we serve, and seeker of the best ways to serve them.
Caption: Evan, left, and Ray