This I Believe

Dennis - Columba, Maryland
Entered on August 29, 2007

Back when I was in high school, I was the starting quarterback on the

football team. But I was also known as a party guy. The party had to end sometime and for me, it all started with the awful death of my friend Ricky Gray. Ricky, who

was an a high school All-American football player who later played at Notre

Dame, died of brain cancer at the age of 38 in 2000. He said to me just

before he died, “I just hope you get better.”

It took me 18 months to get better. My decision to eventually quit drinking

was aided over the fact that I had developed a condition called periphal

neuropathy, a nerve disorder that made it hard for me to walk at times. It

didn’t take a genius to figure out that my lifestyle might have something to

do with my poor health.

Finally, I had my last drink on Nov. 20, 2001. I was sick and tired of

being sick and tired.

However, while quitting was a good thing, it led to some other adjustments I

was not quite ready for.

You see, by 2003, I weighed 250 pounds, which is a lot for a six foot tall

guy like me.

That year I happened to be in Las Vegas with my wife Wanda and her college

roommate and her husband.

In the course of conversation, the husband called me ‘fat.” I was mad.

Real mad. On the spot, I made a bet with him — the first guy to lose 20

pounds in one month would owe the other $100.

I took the wager seriously and went right to the treadmill when I got home.

The problem was that I could only go 7/10’s of a mile without having to

stop. I was so winded and so red in the face that my wife thought about

calling an ambulance.

Still, I persisted and within a week, I was jogging two miles a day at a

12-13 minute pace. I easily won the bet but more importantly, I found

“purpose.” Running gave me my competitiveness back and, as I tell people, I

found what I was looking for.

Since then, I have been running six days a week, even though my neuropathy

still causes some numbness in my extremeties.

Regardless, I have run in 20-25 races and three Washington, DC Marine Corps Marathons

over the past four years.

This fall, I have set the bar even higher. I intend to run in the Chicago

Marathon on Oct. 7 and the Marine Corps Marathon three weeks later. A

number of people think I am crazy and have asked “Why?”

To them, I say, “Why not?” Of course, many are not suprised either — they

always thought I was crazy anyway.

Not long after I started running, I decided there had to be more than just a

self-serving component to my conditioning. So I joined a group called ‘Team

& Training’ in my hometown of Columbia, MD which raises funds for the Leukemia &

Lymphoma Society. With that, I went the friends and family route and with

their pledges have been fortunate enough to raise $30,000 so far in three

years.

I may be more proud of that than I am about anything else I have done.

I know my story may not be unique but I am not sure if it is a tale that

cannot be told enough. I mean I have people who come up to me and would

like to get into shape, which is funny because in many respects I view

myself as one of the last people qualified to give out advice. But I tell

them anyway, “If I can do it, so can you. Run a mile. Take the stairs.

Park far away from the store, so you have to walk. Then build on things and

whatever you do, be proud with what you have done.”

A few years ago, I decided to try to do two things — trust God and help

others. I believe God has led me to where I am now and I can only hope that

my efforts in some way are helping somebody.

Earlier this summer, I was running with a buddy who had just started

jogging. As we were about to go up a hill, he started complaining. I told

him to focus on a tree a third of the way up the hill. Once there, I told

him to focus on another tree a little further up. Pretty soon, you will

discover the hill is behind you, I said.

I think in the past six years I have passed a lot of trees. However, I know

I am in a marathon and I still have a lot of trees to pass until I reach the

finish line.