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What’s worse than hitting STOP on a moving treadmill?

Years ago, when I was a graduate student doing time in the exercise science laboratory in the depths of the Smith Center at George Washington University, I committed a mistake that nearly turned disastrous.

My lab partner and I were learning how to operate the treadmill in accordance with an exercise stress test protocol. The test started with the treadmill at low speed, shallow incline and low physical demand and progressed gradually by steps to higher speeds, steeper inclines and maximum physical challenge. The test was finished when the participant asked to stop or until they could no longer keep up the pace. The highest level reached provided a measure of their maximal exercise capacity.

On this day, my brave lab partner chose to take the first turn on the treadmill while I, full of A student confidence, deftly operated the treadmill controls. She began walking very slowly on the level belt while I got the hang of adjusting speed and incline at regular intervals. Up she went in speed and incline, easily managing the changes in pace. After several minutes, she, being quite fit, had progressed to very high levels on the test, running at top speed at a steep incline, breathing heavily at a rapid heart rate. She was sweating and near exhaustion when she finally signaled she was ready to stop the test.

Seeing her signal, I did what was natural. Yep, I hit the STOP button. Do you know what happens when you hit the stop button on a treadmill when someone is running at full speed?

For some reason, this event has come alive in my mind in these days when the whole world has lurched to a sudden stop. The corona virus hit the stop button on the treadmill where the very fortunate were mid-run at a steep incline, and all the world has been launched into a free fall.

Now, in my days as a graduate student I was of course not alone in the exercise lab while performing this stress test. Rather, I was doing all this under the watchful eye of my exercise science professor, Dr Paup. He, reacting quickly to what he saw I was about to do, shouted, “Don’t stop the treadmill!” Hearing him and in sudden recognition of what I had just done, I did exactly what one should never do next… Yep, in reflex response, I hit the start button.

Fortunately for me, my lab partner was not only fit but also nimble. Somehow by throwing out her hands for balance, grabbing the handrails and lifting her weight from her now hopelessly entangled running sneakers, she escaped disaster and emerged from my total incompetence completely uninjured.

To this day, I have extra respect and harbor even a bit of trepidation with regard to the OFF button on a treadmill. Please, I beg you, press it only in an emergency and preferably not while someone is running. Isaac Newton was right when he told us that a thing in motion tends to remain in motion.

But please, and in fact this precaution is veritably screaming at me to announce in these days, if one makes the unfortunate mistake of hitting the STOP, which one may do when one is young and this experience is new, do not risk further injury by hitting the START to bring things back up to speed. While treadmills are designed to power down with a bit of grace, they don’t have a safety guard against the reflexive stupidity we are prone to when we go to correct our first error by committing another.

This stoppage time, unwelcome to us all, but especially to those who were just hitting their stride, has given us a marvelous opportunity to power down and assess the reasoning behind our activities and the potential recklessness of our protocols. Surely, it will be tempting and even reflexive to mash the start button to correct our error, but it’s better we didn’t.

What if, in this moment of profound pause and redemptive grace, we took stock of the value that’s been displayed so glowingly before us and decided to honor it by acknowledging its worth? How might that change our protocols?

A shoe shine minister lightens a weighty week

I met Moses on Wednesday. He was shining shoes in the JW Marriott. Actually, I heard him before I saw him and it was several days before I introduced myself.

“The 10 commandments, that’s what I’m talkin’ about!” he almost sang. “Love your neighbor.” This was conversation that came free of charge when you got your shoes shined. I was amused to watch the faces of the recipients. Some smiled. Some agreed and encouraged him. Some turned their heads the other way, pretending they couldn’t hear. But you couldn’t help but hear him. And I marveled. What an amazing testimony. A ministry of shoe-shining.

Moses shines shoes at the JW Marriott in Indianapolis

Moses shines shoes at the JW Marriott in Indianapolis

On Friday I finally caught Moses without a customer so I stopped and asked him how long he’d been in the ministry. Ten years, he told me. I asked if I could snap a photo and he obliged, although he insisted it was quick because guys were waiting downstairs for him. He was headed to his evening job, hard rock, gospel style. In the band he was “King Moses.”

I’m always amazed by people who integrate their faith and their work (not just their works). Who somehow translate the Good News message into the language of their vocations. Moses’ way was pretty forthright.

But this morning I walked to sessions with a physiotherapist from Canada.  The scientific conference we have been attending is coming to a close. So much research has been presented. So much debating of validity and statistical significance and repeatability and…

“It’s a shame,” she said, “when you know the good you can do but delay and wait for more confirmation.” She liked people who took what was good – and well-designed exercise is always good – and put it into practice to help people.

She laughed when she recalled some students who came to her with “wondrous” faces. They had just helped an amputee walk for the first time. They said, “I suppose this gets old after you’ve done it more times.”

“It never gets old,” she told me. Each time you help someone walk for the first time, it’s wondrous. Just as amazing as the first time.

I imagine that was the look on the faces of the onlookers when Jesus healed the paralytic and told him, “Take up your mat and walk.” And he did just that. They must have had wondrous faces. And for Jesus and the disciples, it never got old.

What a privilege it is to be a translator of science into the practice of life. To take all these studies and stats and protocols and debates and cull out what will be just the thing that might work for the athletes who come my way. There won’t be a lot of fanfare, but when it works, it is wondrous. Every time.

Leave the research to the researchers and let them get it just exactly right. The rules are important and we want to avoid jumping to our own conclusions, but serving in the field is where the rubber meets the road. I figure I’m a translator of sorts.

Like King Moses said, “the 10 commandments … then love you neighbor.” Translating one into the other is a life’s work.

Does recreation serve a purpose?

So many people out there working. They must be, because I don’t see them out and about. Not standing in the driveway talking to their neighbor. Not playing ball with their kid. Not even walking or jogging or biking. It just feels like we are all about the toil. Get up. Get to work. Come home exhausted. Maybe we rest and read the paper or watch the news or a show. But come morning, we get up and do it again. Kind of a treadmill existence, I’m thinking.

Work and rest. Work and rest. There’s a rhythm. And it’s purposeful. We get something done. But it begs the question, what about recreation? Because that’s what most people consider my job. I am in the recreation business.

Oh, I can convince them to exercise because “it’s healthy” or “it’s good for them” or “it will help them lose weight or have more energy or live longer…” or …- well, there are a number of ‘good reasons’ for exercise. I can explain ‘the purpose’ to them. And if there’s a purpose, because we are purpose-driven people, we can justify spending the time.

But what about recreation? What about something whose purpose is not so defined. It’s not exactly rest. It’s not exactly fun. It’s not exactly productive. Does it have a purpose? If not, why bother, right?

Rest-fun-productive…it’s all of these. How do I know?

Well, I am an expert, after all. I was trained in “exercise science.” My masters program, and I’m not making this up, was in the Department of Human Kinetics and Leisure Studies. Yes, ‘Leisure Studies,’ partly because they didn’t know what to do with the recreational programs (like dance and activity classes and sports skill classes) but also, I think, because there is something about ‘leisure’ that is worth applying oneself to studying. In today’s language, we would call it recreation.

Recreation, whether there are winners or losers, whether there is weight lost or miles covered, whether there are lessons learned or improvements made, is good. It provides time and space for the what else. The things that don’t command our workdays. Opportunity to connect with something that wasn’t in the game plan, someone we wouldn’t normally see or hear from, a place or a person who ‘just happens by.’ That person may be us. The ‘us’ that isn’t engaged in the four other things that need doing.

Now, full disclaimer, I am very bad at allowing space for recreating. I’m not that disciplined. I just keep plugging along at the work that is meaningful and purposeful. And I think I’m pretty productive in the slog, until something or someone comes along and insists we “recreate.” Throw a softball, go to a movie, go out for coffee or a lunch.

And a funny thing happens. When I return to the work I was doing I bring so much more to it. More energy. More ideas. More determination. More purpose.

I guess that’s why they call it re-creation. It’s good for you. But more than that, it’s GOOD-ness for you. I imagine it’s God’s approach to interval training. Work/Serve then Rest/Re-create. He’s in charge of it all. Created it for our good and His purposes.

Which I’m pretty sure I will never know if I refuse His offer. I mean, who in his right mind would refuse the invitation of God, “Come on. Let’s re-create you.” I sure feel more creative after I join Him. So, if I’m in the recreation business…I guess that’s a big job. Better get to work!

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