The story I’m about to tell has never been told in print before. It’s somewhat of an urban legend, passed down through the years, accompanied by gasps of, “Did she really? Were you there?” And then, hysterical laughter.
You guys. I fell off a treadmill. At high speed.
The year was 1999. My 21-year-old, high-energy, pre-kids self was firmly committed to my six am gym date. I was a leader at a summer camp(ish) called Summer Beach Project in florescent-clad Panama City Beach. Our should-have-been-condemned, bed-bugs ridden motel was right down the street from the local gym, and I signed up right away.
You need to know that I am not coordinated. For this reason and many others, I never played competitive sports, unless you count church basketball, but come on. They had to take me. It would have been very un-Christian not to. Despite my lack of skills, here’s one thing I could do: I could run. In open spaces, preferably.
I’ve loved running since I was a kid. I even did an entire science fair project on how variables such as clothing and hairstyle affect your running pace.
Sadly, my project was disqualified for not actually being scientific. I wept on the steps of my portable classroom with my fourth grade teacher by my side, unashamedly blaming her for not giving me a heads-up that my science project was not actually scientific. I had my sights on that medal, and I had been unjustly denied. I’d even worn my best, most favorite purple elastic-waist pants and matching purple plaid shirt for the awards ceremony. How could she let me fail?!
My therapist says just 54 more sessions, and I’ll be past this. I digress…
Back to my love of running, and the fact it was the only sport I could succeed at. Because Panama City Beach is blazing hot in the summer time, I had no choice but to take my running shoes to the ol’ treadmill. Knowing my track record for clumsiness, it was a calculated risk. I knew this. But I thought, “People run on treadmills all the time! They wouldn’t line gyms with them if they weren’t safe. You’ve got this, Phillips.”
And for a while, I did. I pounded the conveyor belt morning after morning, loving the thrill of watching the miles tick by while my speed gauge climbed.
But then, a fatal flaw. I got comfortable. Too comfortable. I thought the treadmill was my buddy, my pal, my partner in crime, so I trusted that he would keep doing his thang even when my attention went elsewhere, like the TV screen in front of me.
I can’t for the life of me remember what was on, or why it sucked me in, but I was glued to the screen. (Cue the forboding music.) I took my eyes off the prize for a few moments, and disaster struck. My right foot stepped off the conveyor belt just enough to throw off my balance.
Now, at this point, good, calm, clear-thinking individuals would have pushed the giant emergency stop button. After all, that’s why it’s there. For such a time as this. But not me—I thought I could save myself. I knew I could. So I grabbed onto the side rail and tried to pull myself back on. This made complete sense, especially since I had the upper body strength of Gumby.
I grasped desperately, willing myself back on that machine, my legs flying wildly behind me, but alas, I started to slip. And then, like Jack on the Titanic’s lifeboat, I lost my grip, yelled goodbye to Rose, and succumbed to the sea below, or in my case, the gym floor.
Did I mention that my entire body rode the conveyor belt like a can of tomato soup and was carelessly dumped off the end? Did I also mention that the gym was filled to capacity that morning?
As I lay in the fetal position, rubber burns on my knees and hands, I peered at the gawking eyes around me. What do I do? Cry? Teleport? Sue the gym? Crawl out on all fours and never show my face again? Instead, some unseen force yanked my body up, I waved to my stunned audience, and announced, “I’m alright everyone! I’m o-kay.” And then I ran three more miles.
Who does that? Who falls off treadmills, besides me and this guy?
Why am I telling you this story today, 18 years later? For one thing, I thought with November 8th looming, you might need a reason to laugh. WE ALL NEED A REASON TO LAUGH.
Besides that very important reason, I thought we also might need a reminder to stay the course. Each of us might be a little bit guilty of staring too hard and long at a presidential election, or a controversial announcement by a Christian author, or our to-do list, or our misbehaving kid, or the new wrinkle that popped up over night, and we’re about to take a nose-dive into despair, if we haven’t already. We’ll then either stay there and wallow, or we’ll jump up a little too quickly and announce “I’m alright! I’m o-kay,” even though that’s definitely not the case.
November 8th will come and go. Announcements will happen, or not. Kids will absolutely do that thing that pushes your buttons and makes you want to make like a bird and fly far, far away. For all these things and more, God’s word still rings true:
“Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness…”
“Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith…”
“Run with endurance the race set out before you…”
“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”
The phrase “Glance at your circumstances; gaze at Jesus” may sound cliche, but it’s wisdom for our souls, especially in these anxiety-ridden, uncertain days. Falling off of treadmills, spiraling into despair: both are born from taking our eyes off of the main thing and gazing a little too long at things we can’t control.
Stay the course, and be sure to offer a helping hand to those running alongside you who might already be in the ditch. And if you feel yourself falling, instead of trying to fix it yourself, press that big red button and ask others to help you regain perspective.
After all, we were never meant to go it alone.