It was late spring 2018 and I was at dinner with Paul Jacquet and Jeff Bassy of The Give Team. Paul and Jeff were about to graduate from high school. Nearly a year earlier we ran our first obstacle course race as a team, the Green Beret Challenge in Perry, Georgia. The following February, we were invited last minute by a man from Miami (Jonathan Lopez) to run a Spartan Race. He'd make sure we didn't have to pay registration fees, but we'd need to find a way down and find a place to stay. At the time of the invitation, we didn't have any money in the budget and it wasn't on the calendar, but it was clear we needed to find a way to make this trip happen. That was our first Spartan Race which we ran alongside Oscar Mike and met Earl Granville, Rick Kolberg, Ray Welch and several others who have since become an extended part of our family. That race impacted every member of the team in a way that continues to today.
While eating dinner, Paul commented about a senior essay he just completed. I asked, "What was it about?"
Paul responded, "I don't want to tell you because you're going to want to see it."
"No I won't. What was it about?" I replied.
"Well, it was about that race we ran in February. It's titled, 'The Best Teacher I Ever Had Was a Cinder Block.'"
Then I spoke. "I need to see that essay."
The best teacher I ever had was a cinder block. That cinder block taught me more in a couple hours than some teachers over a whole school year. But that block didn't teach me that A squared plus B squared equals C squared. Or that Gettysburg was the deadliest battle in the Civil War. No, it taught me that I don't have to deal with problems on my own. Nobody does.
In February of 2018 I ran a Spartan Race obstacle course race in Miami with a team I run with. I run these obstacle courses as a hobby every few months, but this race was completely different from other races I've run. We ran with Team Oscar Mike, an organization that works with injured military veterans to help them get active. They invited us to run with them, and before we started the race they told us our primary mission was to help a paraplegic Marine infantryman named Redzuan Razak through the course. We also were told we had to carry an Oscar Mike flag and a 40 pound cinder block with a chain named Cindy. Mind you, the course was 3.7 miles long and had 30 different obstacles along the way. That's already difficult but on top of that we had the cinder block, the flag, and Razak. When we started, I thought the course would be impossible with these different challenges assigned to us. But as we went along I realized I didn't have to do this alone. Everyone took turns passing the flag (making sure it didn’t touch the ground), and the cinder block and whenever there was an obstacle ahead everyone got in place to make sure Razak got through it.
At the end of the race, Earl Granville pulled our team aside and explained why we ran the course with the cinder block, flag and with Razak. Earl also ran the course as part of Team Oscar Mike and conquered all the obstacles, including the rope climb, even though he was missing a leg. But it was after the race he shared his whole story and the role of the cinder block. Ten years ago Earl was serving in Afghanistan when his Humvee was hit by a roadside bomb. He was the only one to survive, but lost his leg. He returned home and realized he needed to adapt, so he learned how to ski, how to play hockey, and how to function with one leg. But his twin brother, who wasn’t with him in Afghanistan during this deployment, was having a tougher time. In fact, two years after Earl returned, his twin brother Joe committed suicide. The loss of his brother created the greatest challenge for Earl, and Earl’s recovery went backward. After a while, Earl realized his brother wouldn’t want him to quit, so he worked to get stronger. It was during an obstacle course race that Earl saw half a cinder block and picked it up, and finished the race with it, and people asked questions. That’s where the idea of running with the cinder block was born. Cindy became a metaphor for life, and represented the challenges Earl and his brother faced. We all carry burdens, and we all have to be strong to carry them, but sometimes those burdens become too tough to carry by yourself. Overall, we don't have to deal with our problems on our own and that there will always be people willing to help carry whatever is holding you down.
The day I spent running the Spartan course in February will be in my memory forever. I learned so much from everyone who ran with us. Razak inspired me and taught me there is no excuse to move and get strong. He was in a wheelchair and completed that obstacle course race with incredible strength and pride. And Razak wasn't the only person who taught me something that day. The Oscar Mike Team taught me how important it is to be there to help others, and how strong you feel when you help. They also inspired me to never quit, no matter how big a challenge I may face. And when you have a lot to handle or a lot weighing on you, you never have to deal with it on your own. You always have people around you willing to help. When the person carrying Cindy got tired, he handed the block to someone else on the team, so no one had to carry it on their own. While we all had to be strong, and carrying that burden did make us stronger, no one had to depend on themselves alone. Whenever there is a block in your life holding you down there are always people around to help you carry it and lift you up.
There's a little more to the story. After that race, Earl presented us with that cinder block which has become a central part of our workouts and our races. Since then we've added a 75 pound log which we've named Roger. Roger represents the same burden we all carry (because one thing we all have in common is we all carry a burden of some kind), and that we have a team to help carry it. But Roger also represents the choice we make as we carry our burden and face our challenges. That choice is whether we see the weight we carry as a burden and let it break us (because every burden WILL break us if we let it) or whether we see that burden as a source of strength.
Paul went on to graduate high school and has continued his education with summer classes at Florida A&M, then continuing with community college at home. The reason Paul didn't continue at FAMU? His goal is to graduate from college debt free, and the best path to that goal is via community college and then on to a 4-year college. Noble goal, and I'm happy to report he'll be enrolling in a 4-year college this summer. Jeff is a junior at Morehouse College and on track to graduate in 2023.
We're excited to announce both Jonathan Lopez and Earl Granville will be at Sandlot Jax Fitness Festival this weekend in Jacksonville from April 22-24. Earl will be telling his story of overcoming adversity the morning of April 23rd, and will be running the obstacle course with The Give Team at 10:30. So the proper plan of attack is to ATTEND EARL'S TALK around 10:15am, then join The Give Team to run the OCR immediately afterward. We'll bring Cindy, so you'll have a chance to meet her yourself! You'll also have a chance to meet Paul's younger sister Benita who is now part of The Give Team. And who knows, maybe Paul will join us too!