The heart of a runner

Doug’s story

“I started running seriously about 20 years ago”, Doug explains. “Initially it was to spend time with my son Paul, who had developed a passion for running when he was 14.”

Eventually Doug would be running long distances. Even though he had previously undergone a knee reconstruction, he became an endurance athlete, running in many long-distance events.

“At the time of my peak fitness I was 20 kilo’s lighter than I am now and had a resting heart-rate in the low 40’s, which means you are either sick or really fit. I was really fit.”

Warning signs

It was in May 2014 when Doug was running in a 100 km event in the Blue Mountains, just west of Sydney, he sensed something wasn’t right on the inside. “I was accustomed to running for whole days in the mountains, so I knew my body and ability well. I decided to go back to race control to get checked by the medics. They were concerned about my heart-rate but I brushed it off as my long-standing irregular heartbeat. It was my first ever DNF (did not finish) but I figured I would complete it the next year.”

Doug had actually experienced atrial fibrillation. This is where the heart beats irregularly and very fast, resulting in a high risk of stroke and possible heart attack. But Doug didn’t know this and his heart corrected itself. He thought nothing of it and ran in more endurance races later that year.

but that is the nature of an endurance athlete…you just keep going

It was after this he collapsed twice while training. Doug remembers that his sister told him to see a doctor, which hadn’t occurred to him. “But that is the nature of an endurance athlete – whatever happens, you just keep going”, he says.

Within weeks, Doug had to undergo a medical procedure to correct his condition, and even though successful, his health deteriorated significantly. He had to give up his full-time job, “I thought it was the end of the world as I knew it. We still owed money on our home, so we decided to sell it and resettle with no mortgage in a less expensive suburb.”

Life upended

Photo by Jana Sabeth on Unsplash

In a short space of time he had lost his health, his job and now even had to give up his home. To make matters worse, the property market suddenly flattened, which ruined his downgrading plan.

“As the son of a semi-literate factory labourer and stay-at-home mum, I grew up in poverty and started to fear that I would end up there again.”

so I found myself wearing a beard and a red suit in a large shopping centre for the next six weeks

Thankfully, with some good advice, he was able to restructure his finances, keep his home and look for part time work. “My daughter Amy sent me a link to an advertisement for temporary work. This was near the end of the year, so I found myself wearing a beard and red suit in a large shopping centre for the next six weeks. Surprisingly, that job finished on Christmas Eve!”

Photo by Jana Sabeth on Unsplash

Following another tip-off from Amy, Doug secured a part-time job as property manager for a church in the Inner West of Sydney, where he is still working.

Adjusting

Reflecting on this abrupt set of changes to his life, Doug is candid about those things he found difficult. “For about 30 years I had worked in senior management. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, I had gone from working in a private office to a reception counter with a second-hand computer.  I remember thinking, ‘all those years in management and it’s come to this!’ God was showing me how much more I still had to learn about pride and humility.”

The reduction in income was also significant. “I was now earning about 25 percent of my previous income.” Doug’s changed situation meant that his wife, Kerrie had to postpone her intended retirement. “She was on the verge of retiring at 60, which we were both looking forward to.”

I was confronted with confusion and frustration

“It’s easy to talk about God’s plan being good when it aligns with what you want to be doing. But when his plan meant the loss of running and the joy that brought me, the loss of my senior job and associated self-esteem, a dramatic reduction of income and failure to provide a means for Kerrie to retire, I was confronted with confusion and frustration.”

And yet, Doug shows no signs of bitterness now. “It became clear to me over time that being in this position is God’s plan and it has helped me grow in many ways. I look at my part-time job, which initially seemed like a massive downgrade, as a wonderful job when it comes to the things that really count. I am also mindful that countless people experience far greater challenges than me and I am grateful for the many blessings in my life.”

the encouraging thing for me was that I was still learning at 60

Turning 60 has not prevented Doug from learning or expanding his future opportunities. “Early in 2019 I started a course in strata management, which I thought would be helpful to the future plans of the church where I work. The encouraging thing for me was that I was still learning at 60 and being stimulated by it.” He expanded his studies to include real estate sales and on the advice of several teachers, he also trained to become an auctioneer, securing his licence in May 2020. “My new plan was to keep working part-time for the church and do auctions on the weekend”.

But another detour occurred to Doug’s plans with the onset of Covid-19, reducing the opportunity to practice his newfound auctioneering skills.

Another detour

“Live auctions became illegal when my licence came through!” Just as auctions were resuming, health issues in the extended family meant Kerrie and Doug had major caring responsibilities for a few months. Then, on the verge of scheduled filming for his auction website, he was back in hospital with more heart trouble. The launch of his auction business remains on hold while he waits for his fifth heart procedure.

Losses

Considering those things that have ended in his life, he says, “Status was never important to me, until I lost it. Money was never a big factor for me until I was on the verge of losing my house. But those things are history. Those losses don’t concern me now.”

running was never just about the running

“I still miss running. Running was never just about the running. I was never fast or competitive. I never won anything or joined a club. The only person I ever trained with was Paul, who graciously stayed with me even though he could literally run twice as fast. I loved training alone, whether in the mountains or closer to home. I could just be myself. It was the only time there were no demands on me. Running in the bush was especially wonderful, being in God’s unspoiled creation. I enjoyed the beauty, the wildness, the freedom and the peace of it.”

I enjoyed the beauty, the wildness, the freedom and peace of it

Any other laments for Doug? “I wish that Kerrie could have the freedom to work less and spend more time with our grandchildren. She doesn’t complain, but I think about it every day.”

The future

“I have always thought of myself as someone who loves to serve, following my Dad’s exceptional example. Those opportunities have changed recently. “I have been in leadership roles in my church for decades. I have sung up-front in church for many years and now, thanks to Covid, I’m a production assistant and camera operator.

I never sought to do these things but that’s where I’m needed so that’s where God has put me. I have learned that it’s actually more satisfying if I serve in the areas that God makes available to me rather than chasing opportunities to serve in areas which I want. This is pretty humbling though and I miss the singing. But, I’m a work in progress.”

Is there a greater sense of contentment? “I hope so. For now, I have no big long-term plans. I just look forward to seeing where God leads me. Five years ago I wasn’t sure I’d be alive now, so this is all a bonus, another gift from God.”

Doug’s final reflection is a statement from the Bible which seems to sum up where his heart is focused for the future.

…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith…so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

The book of Hebrews

2 thoughts on “The heart of a runner

  1. Love this. You have inspired me to do some writing, not quite the same as you are doing but may have a different life later in the future. Thanks Gabriel.

    Liked by 1 person

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