Just one year ago, Ned and his wife were our guests in Athens for a conference. With their excellent command of the Albanian language (Shqip) and their training, expertise and wisdom in interpersonal relationships, they spoke to our Albanian friends about how to build healthy, productive and sustainable family relationships. During the weekend that they were with us, the Athens Marathon was happening. In fact, they were almost late to an assignment because the Marathon-related traffic put a “kink” in their cross-town travel plans!
It was during that weekend, however, that Ned, a former high school and university cross-country runner, decided to enter his first marathon. Returning home to Albania, he determined to begin the rigorous training, so that his forty-something body could be ready to compete in this year’s Athens Marathon. After all, what better way to enter the atmosphere of marathon running than to participate in the one located on the site that duplicates that first one, beginning in Marathonas, Greece and concluding in the ancient Olympic Stadium in Athens!
Those of us who know and love Tirana, Albania, will recognize that this congested, Balkan city is not the most conducive to training for a marathon. Circular racing tracks are, as yet, unheard of; even runners trails are unknown; paving on so many of the streets varies from crumbling to non-existent; potholes have been known to swallow automobiles and the lucrative business of stealing manhole covers is so routine (The authorities pay the thieves for the covers, so that they can go out and steal the same potholes again and redeem them again!) that pedestrians routinely step into the open spaces, often bringing serious bodily injury to the most cautious and careful walker.
With its constant rain and very cold weather in the winter months, Tirana can be a challenge to any kind of outdoor activity, much less the demanding and sweaty routine that is essential to marathon training. Nevertheless, Ned began to train in January, recalling his younger days. For months, he trained alone. Only in the last month of preparation did he link-up with some others who were also in training!
Although he and his wife maintain a busy schedule of humanitarian work, and they give both quality and quantity time to their young children and to their interpersonal relationships, Ned stayed with the rigorous regimen of preparation through many months. Last weekend, he came to our house a couple of days ahead of the famous race. It was our privilege to host him and to be present at the finish line when Ned crossed over, just over three hours since beginning the race.
Methinks a parable is to be found here. How impressive it is to see someone take on a personal challenge and to remain true to the essential and demanding disciplines required to achieve worthy goals! How much personal growth and character development awaits those who are willing, both to “dream the dream” and, also, to “pay the dues”! How needed, in this day of easy ease and abundant, fertile and enabled “couch potatoes,” is the model of restraint, self-denial and perseverance so humbly displayed by our friend, Ned!
On the other hand, what a privilege for us to be in a position to host this demonstration of resolve and determination! I want my house and my heart always to be accommodating to those who are willing to remain true to lofty goals. In the very best tradition of Albanian hospitality, I want to be willing to be a host to those persons who come across my path who can see beyond the immediate pleasures and can envision greater potentials within themselves and in the world at large. Athlete or athletic supporter, I want to give shelter to those who can demonstrate excellence and emulate insistence.
Who knows, in my own way, I might even become willing to run my own marathon!