Things happen at the exact time they do, not a minute sooner, not a minute later. This indisputable and uncontrollable truth can, depending on one’s desire to understand the greater meaning behind the critical moments of our lives, be both maddening and comforting. Cause and effect, coincidence, or some type of master plan are the only possible choices when it comes to picking a label for these defining ticks, and they can usually be so labeled, especially with the last two tags, only upon reflection. A “go this way now” arrow rarely precedes the key turning points on our life’s map.
One book subject of mine knows a whole lot about timing; he has spent the better part of five decades measuring the minutes, seconds, and fractions of a second that separate good from great, both in him and in his athletes. As a world-class Olympian and unprecedented American record-holding runner, and accomplished and respected running coach, timing is one of the few concepts that have played a hierarchal role in defining his life. But as many times as he was measured running around a track, timing, in the traditional, stopwatch-reading way, is not the timing that has mattered most to him.
Sure, he can go back and point to as crucial to his story any of the hundred-plus times he ran a mile faster than the magical four-minute mark, or highlight the particularly great performances he was able to manifest while competing on the world’s largest stages, or recount the training session after training session in which he withstood more pain and brought more determination than many would believe a person could, but these cause and effect moments pale for him in comparison to the not-so-handily-measured celestial ones.
On our many talks, we’ve explored several key coincidental and sourced-from-a-greater-power moments much more than we have the hundreds of cause and effect moments, because although this athlete was a master of his own physical and emotional accomplishments (and failures), it’s the enigmatic, unpredictable, life-altering flashes of time and circumstance that have made for his eventual serenity and fulfillment. For example, how he and his wife found each other, as the result of an unlikely set of circumstances, at the precise moment in time that ensured that their relationship would last; how she uncovered some deep, dark secrets in her family’s past, that if she hadn’t, would not have led to a timely enlightenment about a treatment option for his cancer; how his eventual and ultimate oncologist was, based on the most improbable of coincidences, the only person he would have trusted with his chosen treatment plan; and, how his optimism and faith have allowed him to accept the challenges he has faced and the blessings he has been granted.
I’ve come to learn how incredible this story is, not merely for trying to understand the path of a gifted runner, or for highlighting his accomplishments, or for witnessing the frail and imperfect character our heroes have at times. Rather, I’ve gained insight into one man’s quest to beat his cancer so that he can experience and enjoy his days with a thankful, humbled, and awe-inspired nod to the forces that had a hand in the timing of the major steps he’s taken while running around life’s track.