"You [have] to love running, or you [won’t] live to love anything else"
~Christopher McDougall, Born to Run
If you’re a runner that’s lived in the Phoenix area for the last 5 years, ‘the streak’ has been like Saturday morning cartoons or summer vacations – it’s just something we've grown up with. The iconic yellow shirt has become synonymous with dedication, hard work and occasionally taking a wrong turn during races J Jay was the first ultra-runner I happened to meet. My research of ultras brought me to his website (www.mcdowellmountainman.com) and I was immediately captured by his story, his already successful string of races and of course and his commitment to run 923 days in memory of his late father.
When you share a common thread with someone like Jay – an endurance athlete, a successful professional and a father – it’s virtually impossible not to feel a connection to the various trials and tribulations he experiences as part of his youth and the deep respect and admiration he has for his father. As boys, we spend much of our time looking up to our fathers for stability, strength and validation. But how would you react if that was suddenly ripped from your world?
|Jay directing runners on Day 923|
What can only be described as a lesson of pure humanity, Jay opens the door to his soul as he deals with a jumbled bag of raw emotions. Helplessness. Fear. Guilt. Remorse.
I felt his pain.
I empathized with his feelings of defeat.
I personally wish I could have met 'T' and shaken his hand.
But about the time you find yourself at the bottom of Jay's downward spiral, I remember thinking to myself “Damn, what would I have done?” Eventually Jay's family lights a spark. Out of love they continue to gently fan it until it becomes a roaring fire. What starts as a lifestyle adjustment slowly turns into a release…a passion…a new-found connection to ‘T’ that changes his attitude and the quality of life for him and his family. So while you can’t help but be moved by the profound meaning of ‘the streak’, the journey Jay undergoes both physically and mentally is incredibly inspiring and uplifting.
Though simple in delivery, I found the message of “Got To Live” to be more profound than I expected. Everyone goes through hard times. And though the magnitude is often times in the eye of the beholder, what really matters is how we confront our fears and challenge our mental strength.
Are you existing, or are you living?
In Jay’s case, he has turned his tragedy into something that transcends running. He has cemented himself as a pillar of strength, hard work and dedication not only for his family but for an entire community of runners who, more than anything, respect him and his “Got To Live” attitude. Jay’s evolution into the McDowell Mountain Man is something anyone can appreciate whether you’re a runner or not. He may be a pretty good endurance runner, but he’s human too…