It's early morning, March 28, 2007. Ray Bell rises from his bed to greet this, his 39th birthday. Only - Ray has no interest in greeting this one. This birthday is unworthy of a celebration. In Ray's mind, He is unworthy of a celebration.
Ray staggers to the bathroom. Depression tracks close behind, like an intruder who's been stalking and decided this is the day to put Ray out of his misery. Ray shoots a quick and discarding look toward the bathroom scales. He's not stepping on them today. He wouldn't dare. He already knows their answer. They've been threatening him with 300 pounds lately. Step on them today and depression wins by an early morning knockout.
Ray stands there. Thinking about it. 300 pounds. He tells himself to look in the mirror. Turn around and look at yourself, Ray. You can hide from the scales, but are your really going to roll into your 40th year on earth without taking a good hard look at who's rolling with you?
Ray knows exactly what he'll see in the mirror today. He'll see his dad who died of a massive heart attack when he was in his 40's. He'll see his mom, gone at the hands of diabetes. Ray knows depression has no better friend than a mirror. No stronger ally. A mirror has the power to say "your next Ray."
Somehow Ray senses this may be his chance. Maybe the last chance he ever has. His chance to turn the mirror on depression. You're dying the early death, depression. Not me.
Ray turns slowly toward the mirror.
Ray glares defiantly into the mirror. You have to make a move Ray. You have to make it now.
Ray slips on a pair of shoes and shorts and heads out the door. I'm about to give myself the greatest birthday present ever, he decides. Ray breaks into a run. And in less than 50 feet he can run no more. He walks. For the next several weeks he walks and runs and walks and runs around his neighborhood until he's able to run 3 miles.
Ray knows his running is getting good, yet his diet is still a challenge. He experiments with all the diet fads. Then one day he's running and God tells him you've got this all wrong, Ray. Eat small meals every two hours. Ray listens. He adopts his self-proclaimed every-two-hour-mini-meal plan. The doctor tells him meat isn't working for his high blood pressure, so Ray's mini meals turn meatless.
The weight starts falling off. Five pounds a week or more. Ray completes a local 9-mile race and suddenly feels ready for a bigger challenge.
Ray shows up to register for the 2008 Flying Pig Marathon. A young lady working the registration booth asks Ray, "How's your training been going?"
"Training? I didn't know you had to train for these things," Ray tells her, caught a bit off guard.
Ray is 16 miles into the 2008 Flying Pig Marathon. His body locks up. There's no way he can take another step. Then he hears the voice from the mirror. "We aren't going to quit are we, Ray?"
He takes a step. Then another. Suddenly he's in the middle of a 10-mile death march to the finish line. He crosses the finish line a new man. He feels confidence he's never felt before. Strength he's only dreamed of. The man Ray rolled into his 40's with is nowhere to be found.
Ray soaks up the spirit of the finish line. In his stillness he hears, "I told you to just trust me, Ray. Just trust me."
The post-marathon recovery is hard. Ray knows he can't tackle the next one - and he knows there will be a next one - without training. He seeks out a local running group and in them he finds all the running experience and education he could dream of. The Westsiders take Rays's running journey to new places.
In 2011 Ray qualifies for the Boston Marathon. He weighs somewhere around 150 pounds these days. So there he is in 2013, in coral 8 of the Boston Marathon. He can see the fastest marathoners in the world just up ahead of him.
The tears begin to roll down Ray's cheeks. I once weighed 300 pounds. I couldn't bring myself to stand on the scales or look in a mirror. Now I stand ready to run the most famous marathon in the world. How on earth did I get here?
Today Ray's life is eat, sleep and run. He says it. He writes it. He lives it.
Eat - clean, small portions, lots of water, make good selections, don't deprive myself.
Sleep - something I need. Reenergizes my body and brain.
Run - this is the huge one for me. The holy gift from God. I can feel God and hear him and listen to him. You hear about this runner's high; I truly believe in the runner's high. Things feel quiet and effortless, you're coming up on that finish line and you know you don't want to quit. That's your runners high.
Ray is currently pointing his runner's high toward unfinished business. Back in 2012 Ray ran a 3:05 marathon in Columbus. In that moment he knew he'd have to break the 3 hour mark. He's looking to do that at the Monumental Marathon in Indianapolis in November, 2017. Ray's currently running over 100 miles a week to prepare for the race. He says he's in the best condition of his life.
Why the continued love for running Ray? Why the drive?
Running is a gift. It is part of the restoration. Part of the radical change in my life. The restoration of health. The Lord gave it all back to me. I don't take it for granted. It's a unique special gift. Running makes me want to have a spirit of excellence. I know that's what the Lord wants from me. There's nothing like giving your all, crossing that finish line, you know that you just laid it all out there. That's what it's about for me.
Ray's voice trembles a bit as he finishes telling his story. The emotions are there. I feel like I'm standing next to him at the starting line of the 2013 Boston Marathon. He reads Psalm 139:14 out loud to me:
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
Ray, you are indeed wonderfully made brother. Wonderfully indeed.
Life is like running.