Theology instructor finds peace in the long run
By Mark Heller
GCU News Bureau
Thanks to a bad back, a freebie and his pre-dawn alarm, Dr. Gary Osmundsen needed only two years of pounding pavement to earn a spot in the Boston Marathon.
The storied race will be run for the 121st time Monday, and the College of Theology instructor at Grand Canyon University won’t be there this time – instead, he’ll be keeping an eye on how friends are doing while he teaches classes and advises students. But on April 16, 2018, the power lifter-turned-triathlete-turned-runner will be one of the world’s 30,000 wearing a bib at the starting line.
A two-year transformation from weightlifting to various triathlons and toward distance running culminated earlier this spring when Osmundsen qualified for Boston in his first-ever full marathon attempt. Although it’s hardly a guarantee of acceptance into Boston, he beat the necessary 3-hour, 15-minute qualifying mark for his age group (40-44 years old) and earned a spot in next spring’s 26.2-mile grind.
It’ll be worth the expenses.
“It’s humbled me, showed my limits and how much faster others are and things that are beyond my control,” he said of running.
Until his late 30s, Osmundsen was into lifting heavy weights, but as he approached 40 his back suffered, as did his golf game. His brother and sister did triathlons, and, yearning for a way to keep his back healthier, Osmundsen ditched the weights for running and swimming to improve his cardio.
He lost 40 pounds and signed up for a YMCA triathlon in Oklahoma in 2013. He labored at times but got through it in one piece and felt the training (and losing weight) helped his fitness, golf game and especially his back.
A few months later, a friend from his church had a free invitation to a local half-marathon after another person signed up but couldn’t attend. Osmundsen hadn’t run more than 10 miles in his life, but he trained and was hooked.
He moved the family – his wife and three children – from Oklahoma to Arizona in November 2015 to teach at GCU. In March 2016 he ran the Hippity Hop Marathon in Peoria at a 7-minute, 11-second average per mile.
“I was like, ‘Whoa,’” he said.
He trained for six weeks with friends and family on the East Coast during the summer of 2016, then did the Rock n’ Roll half-marathon last January in one hour, 25 minutes, a 6:33 per-mile pace.
“That said I could do it and put in the miles,” he said. “It confirmed my confidence even more.”
Validation came in his first and only race he needed to earn a spot in Boston: the BMO Harris Bank Mesa-Phx Marathon, when he qualified with a few minutes to spare.
Osmundsen, who gets up at 5 a.m. daily to swim and/or bike for 60-90 minutes and also does a weekly run of 15-20 miles, found that running helps him better understand “how faith is having confidence and trust in something one lacks conclusive or immediate evidence for.”
His newfound confidence stems from a belief in his ability (and, subsequently, the results), trust in his training, advice from experts and friends, “and that God will take care of the things out of his control.” It’s a discipline that helps his other disciplines.
“I see racing as a sport, and sports can, when done well, cultivate some important virtues in the pursuit of character transformation,” he said. “Sports can produce either vicious or virtuous character. But when done with the right perspective, virtues like perseverance, humility, courage and theological ones like faith and hope can be cultivated and strengthened.”
Contact Mark Heller at (602) 639-7516 or email@example.com