my father was a high school junior, he locked in to a dream:
he would become the world’s champion endurance bicyclist.
audacious aspiration for a frail sixteen-year-old with no
previous athletic achievements to his credit, we might say.
as it turned out.
was 1927, and, establishing endurance records had become a
national craze in the optimistic mania of this pre-depression
period. A friend of Dad’s, Owen Evens, had set one in
golf—playing 17 hours without a break. A Frenchman held the
record for non-stop cycling, at 24 hours. The Amateur Bicycle
League was urging American cyclists to try to top it.
had taken a job as a bicycle messenger that summer. He found
his stamina held up well, even after hours of peddling
streets in sweltering heat. One day he made a simple
connection between his experience as a messenger and winning
the endurance title. “I can do it,” he thought. “I can
beat that Frenchman’s record.”
August 17, at 9:00 p.m., he officially began his quest for the
title, peddling a circular path around the polo grounds of
, D.C’s Hain’s Point. Officials from the Amateur Bicycle
League were on hand to monitor his progress, and members of
the local press as well.
he finally eased his brakeless, gearless bike to a stop and
stumbled off, it was 9:27 p.m.—August 18. He had stayed
aloft for 24 hours and 27 minutes, peddling 250 miles and
setting a new world record.
papers featured many articles about the event—announcing
dad’s intention to try for the title, detailing his marathon
ride while in progress, then reporting his victory and
follow-up news. The titles of these now barely readable,
yellowed clippings, pasted in an ancient, ragged scrapbook,
still give me chills to read:
Will Try for Endurance Record on Bike”
Sure He Will Break Bicycle Record”
Cycler, Grinds Along”
Cyclist Going Strong after 12 Hours”
Rider Nearing Record in Grind at
Cyclist Sets New Endurance Record”
Is Claimed by Capital Bikeman”
Youth Claims New Bicycle Record”
Boy Sets Bike Record: Milton Smith Rides 250.4 Miles in 24-1/4
Helped Smith in Bike Grind”
D.C. Bikeman, after World Mark”
Press also picked up the story in a feature carried by many
papers around the country. The result of all this media
attention was that dad became an overnight celebrity in
. A shy, barely-known
student gained a cherished new identity. Achieving his goal
boosted his confidence immensely, and gave him the heart to
think big as he moved into college and adulthood. The benefits
to every area of his life were enormous. Photos.
things impress me about my dad’s successful pursuit of the
endurance title. For one, I’m moved by the fact that he took
his dream to win it so seriously. He wanted this prize so
badly that he found the resolve and means to attain it.
we look honestly at why some dreams of ours succeed while
others fail, we usually find that only the strong ones
survive. It’s fundamental to our nature as humans to have
aspirations, and over a lifetime we experience many. It’s
just as basic to our nature to lose heart; it takes
practically nothing to discourage us and convince us that a
dream is impossible for us. Yet when a dream is substantial
enough, and our passion to achieve it strong enough, we find a
way to beat the challenges and persevere till we succeed. It
also seems that serendipities occur: life rises up to meet us
and help us accomplish what we desire.
older I grow, the more impressed I am with what a gift it is
to experience a dream at this level. When we see a real-life
example of someone who benefited from a dream this powerful,
it’s always inspiring.
course, by today’s standards my father’s accomplishment,
while impressive, doesn’t seem that earth-shattering.
Cyclists have established and broken countless endurance
records in the 85 years since dad made his marathon sojourn
park. What all this history suggests is that there were
undoubtedly many—probably thousands—in the
at that time who could have achieved this same feat. Yet among
those who could have done so with a reasonable try, only my
father made the effort at that time. The fact that he tried
made the difference.
same dynamic operates far more frequently in our experience
than most of us realize. We often hold back from pursuing a
dream because we fear “the competition.” We assume so many
others are vying for the same benefit that we have no hope of
attaining it. Yet when we begin moving earnestly toward a
goal, we’re sometimes surprised: we find that far fewer have
found the heart to try for it than we supposed. The mere fact
that we’ve made ourselves available for the opportunity puts
us in a position of strength, and makes it possible for us to
personal dreams so frequently are within our reach. My
dad’s experience is one small example of how passion and
availability can tip the scales.
hard to exaggerate the importance of personal dreams. The
benefits they bring to our well-being, health, productivity,
social life and personal growth defy description. If we look
carefully at our life, we always find that the times when
we’ve felt most alive and most hopeful about our future,
have been when we’ve embraced a dream and pursued it
eagerly. These also have been the times when our life has been
most fruitful and beneficial to others.
need dreams like the air we breathe. We need them in career,
education, relationships, avocations, lifestyle, personal
development and growth. And we need fresh dreams throughout
our life: when one is realized, it’s important to replace it
with another, that we remain forever in a growth mode. Major
dreams may be realized even at unlikely points late in life. Consider
Henry J. Magaziner, who published his first book at 89—a
coffee-table volume on classic iron works that received
critical acclaim. Magaziner didn’t begin this project till
he was 81.
for a dream to be effective—to the point it propels us to
succeed—we must own it so fully that it becomes part of the
fabric of our personality. This won’t happen unless we’re
convinced our dreams are both important and achievable.
Exuberance for Life
find inspiration to both of these ends in the story of David
and Goliath. I’ve often drawn on this incident in my Nehemiah
Notes articles, for it has much to teach us about
realizing our potential. Yet for a long time I missed a
critical detail about David’s decision to fight the giant
that stunned me once I noticed it.
Goliath taunted the army of
, demanding that a warrior come forth and fight him, Saul
offered a reward to any citizen able to meet the challenge.
David heard soldiers talking about this prize while he was
visiting his brothers on the front line: “Do you see how
this man keeps coming out? He comes out to defy
. The king will give great wealth to the man who kills him. He
will also give him his daughter in marriage and will exempt
his father’s family from taxes in
” (1 Sam 17:25).
hearing this tantalizing description of Saul’s reward, David
asked two further groups of soldiers for information about it,
“and the men answered him as before” (v. 30).
impressed me when I finally noticed it, after years of
teaching and writing on this passage, is that this reward influenced
David’s decision to fight Goliath. And substantially. This
is clear from the level of interest David showed in confirming
the details about it.
reward promised several benefits to the victorious warrior: a
marriage partner, financial security, political freedom,
and—by implication—the chance to exercise leadership and
political influence. David obviously had dreams in some or all
of these areas, and saw fighting Goliath as an opportunity to
take a quantum leap toward them. And his motivation in these
areas was undoubtedly stronger than that of most of his
contemporaries, for he alone mustered the courage to confront
to be sure, also possessed strong faith in God, and ached to
see God’s glory defended against Goliath’s slander (1 Sam
17:26, 36, 45-47). He clearly felt strong compassion for his
countrymen too, and longed to help free them from the
Philistines’ oppression. These were substantial dreams in
we shouldn’t downplay the role that David’s hope for
certain personal benefits played in deciding to accept
Goliath’s wager. What this story reveals most importantly is
that David had a passion for life. It was reflected in
several major longings: to improve his own life in certain
ways, to help his countrymen, and to uphold God’s glory. All
of these desires were important in his gaining the motivation
to fight Goliath. And it was precisely because they were so
strong that he found the strength of heart to do something
this supremely challenging.
example is so refreshing, for it encourages us both to take
our personal dreams seriously and to allow them to become
powerful inspirations. Many Christians are uncomfortable
giving much attention to their dreams—especially those for
personal benefits—out of fear their aspirations might
interfere with their devotion to Christ. Our dreams can become
idols, unquestionably. Yet C. S. Lewis nailed this problem
when he noted that we fail, not by loving things too much, but
by not loving God enough. If I’m attaching too much
importance to an otherwise healthy dream, the answer isn’t
to try to tone down my enthusiasm for it, but to strive to
increase my affection for Christ.
here that David’s role model is so helpful. Because his
devotion to God was so strong, his personal aspirations
influenced him in a healthy manner. His example inspires us
both to strengthen our relationship with Christ and to
embrace substantial dreams for our life. David’s experience
also suggests that within the context of a strong relationship
with God, we’ll be inclined to live out our dreams in ways
that most help others and enhance Christ’s mission.
the same token, we see in David’s countrymen the problem
that occurs when personal dreams are not strong enough. It’s
fair to say that if some of them had possessed a stronger
passion for life, they, like David, would have been clamoring
to fight the giant.
brings us to another lesson David’s experience with Goliath
teaches. It’s the fact that others may not be
clamoring to accomplish the same dreams we want to pursue.
lack of competition David faced in fighting Goliath was beyond
any belief. His conviction that he could tackle the giant
sprang from recalling successes as a shepherd fighting wild
animals with a sling (I Sam 17:34-37). Since God’s glory was
now at stake, David assumed God would give victory through
this skill already so evident in his life. Yet thousands of
Israelite soldiers had also been shepherds or hunters and had
confronted ravenous animals just as David did. They had the
identical basis for concluding they could successfully battle
Goliath. But none of them made this connection. Not one.
David alone was able to see the situation with the eyes of
did David see a remarkable opportunity for victory, while
others didn’t? His passion for life explains it, I’m sure.
It was so strong that he was motivated to make connections
between his past experience and the present challenge that
others didn’t bother to try to make.
failure of other Israelites to see this situation
optimistically also demonstrates how inherently human it is to
expect failure, even when the prospect for success is
excellent. Regardless how achievable a dream may be, others
simply may not believe it’s possible for them. While it’s
tragic that people often fail to recognize golden
opportunities, it’s a reason for encouragement whenever we
fear others may crowd us out of reaching a desired goal. We
may find, as my dad did in the endurance contest, that the
competition is insignificant. And our availability alone may
make our success possible, if we just make a reasonable
effort. No story in Scripture illustrates this dynamic better
than that of David and Goliath.
encounter with Goliath, then, helps us to think in terms of
doors being open rather than closed. And his passion for life,
which this incident reveals so vividly, inspires us to take
our own dreams seriously. We’re encouraged both to dream big
and to embrace our dreams with greater confidence. Remember
David’s experience with Goliath whenever you’re
entertaining a major step with your life.
you’ll find it helpful, too, to remember Milton Smith
cycling endless circles around Hain’s Point in August 1927,
and persisting till he achieved his goal. His experience
inspires me for obvious reasons—because of my relation to
him, and because the event is part of our family history. Yet
you may find inspiration in it as well because of the timeless
lesson it offers—that passion and availability greatly
enhance our potential for accomplishing a dream.
Is there a dream
you have wished to realize but have lost heart about
achieving? To the best of your knowledge, does it fit well
with your life as God has designed it? Take heart that God may
see your possibilities radically differently than you do. Pray
earnestly for his help and direction. Resolve to put your
energies into doing what you can to reach your dream, rather
than into explaining why it cannot be accomplished. Get the
best counsel you can about how to proceed, from people who
believe in you and want you to succeed.
step out in faith, and enjoy the incomparable adventure of
moving toward your goal. Apart from God’s giving you a clear
reason to change direction, keep persisting till you reach it.
Riding out a dream to the finish makes all the difference.