I’m CSPC member Melody Berrong, and this is how I’ve been living deeply.
The very first race I ever ran, the Cades Cove Loop Lope almost four years ago, was in honor of my dad. A dad means everything to a daughter. His death -on June 20, 2018- was sudden and unexpected, so we didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. He was only 63. I think it’s natural, when someone dies, to want to do something. For me, that ‘something’ was becoming a runner. Running was always something I’d wanted to do, but I was just a very insecure person. When I was in college, all my roommates ran a half marathon and I thought I could never do that. I had never been athletic. Well, the day after Dad died, I just went for a run to clear my head- I ran 5 miles that day, almost without thinking about it! Something had changed in me: I wanted to really live life, because I never knew when life might be taken away. Plus, I was beginning to see my sons’ doubt in themselves, like saying ‘I can’t do this’ with things I knew that they could do. I also have that voice in myself. I wanted to show my kids you can do things that you think you can’t do. So after I ran that first race, I started working my way up to challenges that I once would have considered unthinkable. I completed a half marathon. Then I decided I wanted to do a marathon, and that I eventually wanted to qualify for The Boston Marathon. Qualifying for Boston is something only 4 percent of marathon runners ever do. It was all exciting to think about. And then COVID happened. So I trained for three marathons that ended up getting cancelled because of COVID. That’s a lot of work on your body. In October 2020, I signed up for a spring 2021 marathon to train and hopefully qualify for Boston. But almost immediately after signing up, my hopes got dashed again. I was getting in a routine run in the dark, fell, landed on a rock, and broke my foot. I ran for about a mile after that, then finally called my husband to come pick me up. I felt really defeated- the surgery to repair my foot set back my timeline significantly. I was finally able to run again two months later, near Christmas time.
I was so nervous the whole month before the Indianapolis Marathon, which I ran in November 2021, hoping to qualify for Boston. I wasn’t sleeping- I was just so nervous that I was going to implode or something. I had to cover 26.2 miles in 3 hours 35 minutes (3:35) or less. My coach gave me a race plan, mile by mile, and I was like, ‘I’m just going to focus on it.’ So when race day finally came, I didn’t focus on time. I was just focused on executing the plan. Then at the finish line, I finally saw my time- 3:25! It’s the only race where I’ve ever negative split (got faster over the course of the race). I was thrilled. My husband, kids and a bunch of people from my running group were there at the end to greet me. My husband loved it! The kids wanted to go back to the hotel and weren’t as thrilled, but it was important for me that they saw it. The boys are 8 and 6, and one is in competitive soccer, so I’ve felt like there were lessons for them in seeing me struggle and have bad days but still continue to show up and do the work. They didn’t go with us to Boston, but I wanted them to see me accomplish qualifying. When I ran Boston this past April, I had COVID (unknowingly); ended up needing medical help twice, but I finished. What felt good wasn’t qualifying- it was running Boston! There were people there from everywhere and it’s an amazing energy. I didn’t have my best race, but afterward I was crying because I couldn’t believe I had done it. Finally running Boston was like a dream. In general, I think it’s great to pursue your dreams- it just makes you feel more alive. I think God likes for us to do that and it makes Him happy when we do. When I got home, I was still sick and it turned out I had COVID, and my doctor said I must have had it during the race. That makes sense because I had to stop at the medical tents a couple times for stomach issues- at mile 8 and mile 20 or 21. I was in the tent for 15 minutes that last time. But after I had gone that far, it wasn’t in my mind that I wouldn’t finish. I ended up with a time of 3:45 including those two stops. I get to do Boston again next year, so I’ll get to redeem that time.
I’ve always prayed I would glorify God with my running without really understanding what that would look like, because I’m not an elite athlete. But I am a very disciplined person, so I think I honor God by using that gift. This is my first year back at work, so I’ve been getting up at 4:00 every morning to train. I also live deeply through running by being honest in the struggles that come with it. Running with the sorts of goals I’ve set is super time-consuming, so I have wrestled a lot with whether it’s selfish for me to do it. It’s easy to try to find my identity in running, and I don’t want to do that. The Christian Olympic runner Ryan Hall has talked about how you run out of who you are, not to prove who you are. So the way I’ve grown is being able to stand on who God says I am regardless of how I do- but then also having the freedom to try, and then I can fail and it’s okay. I think a lot of times we just don’t try -whatever it is- because we don’t want to fail. There’s freedom in being able to try something. Running also brings me joy, and so again I think it brings God joy when I do something I enjoy. My earthly dad would be really proud knowing I was able to run Boston- he was always just a huge encourager of mine. I run a 10-mile race in memory of him every year now up in the Smokies, because the morning Dad passed away, he had been volunteering in the Smokies doing trail maintenance. Last year, I won the women’s division of that race! They close Cades Cove for the Cades Cove Loop Lope every November. It was only a week after the Indianapolis Marathon, so I really shouldn’t have been running it, but I told my coach it was non-negotiable. After Dad died, we found a picture of him holding a picture of his dad. So now, every year, I take a picture with that picture at the race. The Loop Lope’s a fundraiser for Friends of the Smokies, which is also where we had memorial money sent after Dad died, so it all came full circle when God kindly blessed me with a victory in that race.
I’ve seen God’s goodness in lots of ways I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t been through the suffering of losing my dad. For lack of a better word, I’ve seen God’s ‘bigness.’ When my parents were pregnant with me, my dad had a dream where an angel told him they were pregnant with a little girl. Then, the Father’s Day right before my dad died, I had a dream where my dad was really sick and my parents weren’t telling me what was going on. So in the dream my husband turned to me and said, ‘Melody, your dad has two days to live.’ I made a joke about it with Dad, and then of course he really did die. Oddly, all of that provided me reassurance that this was God’s plan for my dad. For God to give Dad a dream and then, almost 35 years later, to give me a dream that provided some solace… He didn’t have to do that. Also, I work at CAK (Christian Academy of Knoxville) as a counselor. A month before he died, my dad was hired by CAK to teach advanced AP physics. That’s been really hard for my family- he really wanted to do that and we hated he didn’t get that opportunity. Then, in spring of 2021, CAK had another job opening. The administration at the school knew me because they had hired my dad and came to his funeral, at which I spoke. Well, they ended up offering me this new job, and I hadn’t even applied for it! Now I feel like I get to continue Dad’s story at CAK. In January, school leaders even asked me to speak at chapel about how faith helps in times of suffering, so I got to share how my faith helped me when Dad passed away. God’s hand was just very much on all this, and I’ve felt His presence throughout. He’s still working redemptively through Dad’s life.