These thoughts are to help and inspire people like you and me to reach higher and strive for greater things, to stand for a cause more noble than self serving, seeing the good in others and seeking it for their sake. I unashamedly weave my faith, biblical insight and life experiences into a sporting context to illustrate my personal journey to this point - I hope in a small way, I can help you on your journey to being all you were intended to be....

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Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The Pig Run

Every year was the same. The coaches waited until rain had been falling for days. Then they announced it. We assembled at the foot of a very steep hill for the annual cross country "pig run". The course climbed a very steep track, made a tour of the farm, passed through woodland, emerging back onto the hill close to the start/finish line.The heavy rainfall, combined with what pigs do naturally, made for an interesting running surface. Uphill and running in muck wasn't everyone's idea of a coaching charm offensive. For the most part, the lads tried to edge their way round the worse parts, trying to avoid being splattered with it. But the more they tried to inch their way around and stay clean, the more their feet and ankles sank into what they were trying to avoid!

Several years earlier, a few of us had decided the best plan was to simply attack the course. Pressing on  through the slime ridden reaches of the course, would also mean we could head back to the showers before the hot water ran out! We didn't quite go as far as embracing the grime, but we accepted that to complete the course, we just had to get on with it. So, setting off in a dash, we sprinted the hill, making it to the top as our lungs burned with the strain. Then, confronted with tractor ruts rammed with mud, we had to push hard to make headway through the muck. We rounded the top of the course with our chests pounding. The return journey was relief. On the way back, plastered in the muck we were running through, we just plowed on through the slime pools, splattering the lads still edging their way past the pig pens.

I usually ran it with a good friend. There was no conversation. We knew what we had to do, encouraging each other only with our sheer exertion. When we exchanged the muck of those ruts for the mud and the rucks, equally, without a word said, I knew he was always there backing me up, following up at my shoulder, ready to drive play on. There wasn't much on the field of play we were unprepared for - the ferocity of the opposition, the physical demands or the conditions. The pig run saw to that! I guess we made a mental breakthrough when we decided to press on through the muck instead of trying to avoid it.

I often wondered at the time, why they made us do the pig run every year. Couldn't we run around the rugby pitches or through dry fields and taking in a few hills - like any normal team might? But looking back at the pig run and laugh at the sheer madness of running through pig muck, I realize what it did for us - and it wasn't just on the rugby pitch. I discovered an important principle through being asked to face the pig run. How we respond to adversity so often determines what happens next. I wonder now what we would have done if they'd asked us to lift power weights, or do sprints, or press ups? Ego played a big part back then, just like it always does when young men get together. But the pig run was a leveler. It forced each of us to make a decision every time we ran it. Which route would we take? The route of least resistance or face head on something that at surface level seems humiliating? Eventually, the few, reached the point where we ran together far ahead of the pack, crossing the finish line together - arms linked, so they couldn't separate us. We were all winners. Nobody was going to divide us.

An insight from the bible has been a great help to me as I've had to face up to challenges along my journey. There is an account of a military leader called Naaman. He had accomplished many things for his country. He had faced conflict and he had prevailed. However, despite his strength and ability on the field, he carried the burden of an excruciating skin condition. It really troubled him. A young girl from his household staff, seeing his pain, very courageously talked to him about her God and his concern for this man. Naaman admired the girl's spirit and decided to investigate the possibility of finding relief from his condition. He traveled a great distance to visit one of God's men she had said could help him. On arrival he was told by the man's servant to go wash in a particular river. That was it. No special test? No ceremony? Nothing spectacular?

His offence and anger was immediate. Despite his obvious need, in his offence at being asked to do something mundane, in filthy water, he decided to walk away. A member of his staff realizing the significance of what he was walking away from spoke up. "Sir if they had asked you to do something spectacular, or shown your strength or fighting spirit - you would have done it wouldn't you? So why not do something so simple?" The commander changed his mind. He stepped into the water. What was a test of his faith and his response, led to the breakthrough he needed. He came out of the river clear of his complaint and I suspect a better man for the discovery he made. 

It's not in self serving routines that inflate our egos that breakthrough is found. It's often in very different conditions. He faced a choice, just like ours in the "pig run" - to press through or walk away. Which route will you take today?