Runnin' for Rhett inspires

Norris Burkes recently participated in his first half-marathon at the age of 54. (PBC Sports Photography)

Two months ago, life was good. I'd lost 28 pounds while jogging with my dog, Toby; I was writing my second book; and at 54, I still had combable hair. I was feeling on top of my warped and wobbly world.

Then my wife introduced me to Eva Nelson, a teacher colleague from our church. After a few minutes of church chat, Eva mentioned her recent half-marathon runs and challenged me to race with her team.

My male ego sometimes trumps my chaplain card. Eva is only five years younger than me, I reasoned. I should be able to do anything she can do. So in that altruistic vein, (or perhaps vain) on a Thursday, I paid my registration for the American River Parkway run in Sacramento.

I'm not sure why, but all my cocky ideas start on Thursdays. I think that's because I finish writing my column by Wednesday and can't imagine that my Wednesday deadline will ever come again.

Finally, six weeks after meeting Eva, I stood on the starting line awaiting 13.1 miles of party with my team and another 4,000 people, my engine racing. However, race-day jitters had allowed me only two hours of sleep and I was living up to my racing nickname of “Chatty Chappy” when I started cracking gallows humor. “If anyone dies out here, I'll do the funeral right along the river — gratis, of course.”

They have a great sense of humor, but they take running very seriously and find motivation in the story of Rhett Seevers, who was born in 1997 with severe cerebral palsy. His parents, Beth and Randy Seevers, worked tirelessly for seven years to lessen his disabilities, but on March 13, 2004, Rhett died unexpectedly.

On the first anniversary of Rhett's passing, a friend introduced Beth to her first half-marathon. During the next two years, she enlisted others to run alongside her until, on Dec. 7, 2007, friends and family founded the Runnin' for Rhett foundation.

Their mission is to “let Rhett's story inspire, uplift and encourage all to move into life.” And while not everyone in the group has such a tender story as the Seevers, most of them do have a story in which they are born again after bad health, careers or relationships.

These days you'll find applying the scriptural admonition to “put every thing out of our lives that keeps us from doing what we should. Let us keep running in the race that God has planned for us.” That's exactly what this team did during this half-marathon. They sustained encouragement for themselves, for me (the newbie) and for the teammate that kept losing her stomach contents.

Finally, at 12.9 miles, when I still couldn't see the finish line, I had one question: Did some joker move the finish line? I was expecting it see it five miles back. And at 2:34:18, I bolted across the finish line.

Now Eva has suggested I train for a half-triathlon (1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike and 13-mile run). I think she's crazy, but Thursday comes again next week.

Runnin' for Rhett raises more than $60,000 for youth fitness programs. Learn more at runninforrhett.org.

Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist, national speaker and author of “No Small Miracles.” You can call him at 321-549-2500, email him at ask@thechaplain.net, visit his website thechaplain.net or write him at P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759.