Marathon Man: Sulphur Springs counselor fulfills childhood dream by running in famed New York City race
Patti Sells | News-Telegram Feature Editor

Israel Lewis trained for four months before taking part in the 2003 New York City Marathon, an event he says he had wanted to take part in since he was a child.
Staff Photo By Ricky Russell

January 16, 2004 -- Sulphur Springs family counselor Israel Lewis claims running is his own therapy.

The 32-year-old father of two recently had time to work out many of life's kinks as he jogged 26.2 miles, fulfilling a childhood dream of running in the New York City Marathon.

"I had a hard time sleeping the night before," said Lewis, who ran his first marathon six years ago. "I guess when you have been dreaming of that day since you were a little boy and training for four months, it's a little hard to sleep."

The day was made even more special, according to Lewis, as he had the honor of being one of the guest speakers for the event, which embodied 30,000 runners and an estimated two million spectators.

"I have had the opportunity to speak in many great places, such as Russia, South Africa, Mexico and Canada. However, speaking to fellow runners before the race was the pinnacle of my professional career thus far," said Lewis, who came to Hopkins County in 2000 to be the youth pastor for Shannon Oaks Church of Christ. "I spoke from my favorite passage, 1 Corinthians 9:24 and challenged each runner with my personal mission statement - to finish strong, not just today in the race, but each day and for the rest of their lives. Our walk with the Lord is not a 100-yard dash, it is more like the marathon. I believe in the Christian race it is not how you start that counts, it is how you finish."

According to Lewis, the true miracle of marathon running is not in finishing the race, but having the courage to start it.

After "The Star Spangled Banner" was played, Lewis said, butterflies swarmed in his stomach as the race began under the awe of fireworks and to the sound of Frank Sinatra singing "New York, New York," over loudspeakers.

"I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming," Lewis said with a laugh.

After running for four hours and 55 minutes, Lewis said his life would never be the same.

"I have run several great marathons," said Lewis, "but none compare to running through the five boroughs of the Big Apple."

The annual event has been referred to as a 26-mile block party due to the number of fans that line the streets.

Lewis said he was overcome with emotion when he came into Brooklyn and the police were holding back the crowd.

"I got misty-eyed as the little children would stretch as far as possible to give a high-five to runners passing by," he recalled.

Lewis said running through Central Park was more like running in a parade as leaves of deep red, yellow and orange rained down onto the runners like ticker tape and confetti. He said on the back of a man's shirt he read, 'Today's pain is temporary, yet the pride of today will last a lifetime."

"This really helped me along," explained Lewis, who said by this point the shin splints and side stitches were asking him how bad he wanted to finish the race.

He said then as he "rounded mile 25," something happened that Hollywood could not have scripted any better.

"A man with bagpipes was playing the theme song from 'Chariots of Fire' my favorite movie of all time and a known classic to all runners," Lewis said. "At that point my heart silenced the cries of my aching body and with laughter and tears I picked up the pace for my final kick to finish strong."

According to Lewis, the marathon journey offers so much more than crossing the finish line. In fact, he said, the joy is most found in the journey.

"The journey provides the chance to confront fear, fatigue, failure, patience, perseverance, courage, confidence and a host of other concerns within us," he explained. "I think perhaps one of the most exciting and rewarding aspects of running is the potential to go beyond your self-imposed limitations and offers you the opportunity for personal triumph.

"My wife once asked me, 'Is all the pain worth it?' That would be after she came home to find me icing both knees and my foot and having just made another appointment with Dr. Monte Horne. When I close my eyes and hear the fans of Brooklyn leaning out their third floor windows and hear my sons asking if they can take my medal to school for "show and tell," the answer is 'I would do it again in a "New York Minute.'"

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