Criswell College student draws biblical parallels from grueling Ironman race

DALLAS?Matt Edwards, 43, is a sergeant on the Dallas police force and is pursuing a master’s degree at Criswell College. He’s a husband, and father of four?one of whom is “severely autistic,” he said. So where did he find the time every week to swim five miles, bike 150 miles and run 40 to 50 miles training for an Ironman competition?

That’s what a producer at ESPN Films wanted to know when he called Edwards in November.

The rest of the story precedes that phone call, going back to last July, when Edwards took a tumble on his bicycle and smashed his collarbone. His doctor said the severe break would require surgery.

“I’ve got the Ironman race in November,” Edwards told his doctor.

“It’ll take a miracle for you to do that,” the doctor replied.

The surgery included nine screws and a small piece of supportive metal, and was followed by six weeks of bed rest. That’s hardly what an athlete wants to experience when training for a race that entails a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride, and a standard marathon of 26.2 miles. That’s 140 miles, and the race must be completed in 17 hours.

“Before my accident, I was relying on my own training,” Edwards told the TEXAN. “But after the surgery, I left it all up to God. No matter my training, only a miracle would get me through. I told the Lord, ‘I’ll put in the miles, but you will have to get me across the finish line.'”

Edwards asked God to use the race as an opportunity to be a Christian witness.

“But people in the race are exhausted,” Edwards said, noting they have little time to chat. So Edwards planned to don his Criswell College T-shirt at race time because “Criswell College is one of the most important things in my life,” he said.

Shocked by the call from ESPN, Edwards wondered why the popular sports network took an inkling of interest in him. That’s when Rachael, his wife, reminded Edwards that he prayed for the race to foster a witnessing opportunity.

Edwards said ESPN’s inquiry stemmed from an interest in how his schedule and many responsibilities allowed time for such intensive training. Edwards explained that while he was riding, swimming and running, he was also memorizing Greek vocabulary words, declining the nouns, and conjugating the verbs.

Though he’s not sure how much of his interview will appear on the ESPN Films DVD of the race, Edwards said the producer gave him extensive freedom to share an overtly Christian testimony.

November 21 was race day in Tempe, Ariz. Edwards jumped into the water at 7 a.m. and crossed the finish line at 10:30 p.m. Completing the race provided personal reward for Edwards, but he was also pleased to win the “Ford Ironman Everyday Hero Award.”

Edwards said the award is usually given to a competitor who had overcome cancer or lost a significant amount of weight, or had made important contributions to their community, or had conquered seemingly insurmountable obstacles other than the race itself.

Accolades aside, Edwards values the spiritual lessons most of all.

A Scripture passage topmost in his heart and mind is 1 Corinthians 9:24-27: “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”

“You want to quit so badly,” Edwards said of the training. “There are mornings that are too cold and windy to swim or run or bike.”

Noting the parallel between physical and spiritual training, Edwards said, “There are also countless hours of training in the faith,” he added, saying he sometimes doesn’t want to “get up early to study the Bible or go to church. But I know that Bible study and Christian fellowship are some of the most important things in my life.

“In running the race for Christ, you can’t give up, you can’t give in. You’ve got to keep your eye on the prize,” he said. “You may stumble, you may fall, you might even break your collarbone and be embarrassed, but you just keep going.”

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