When I was in Jr High, it was common knowledge that the best basketball player in the world was Michael Jordan. He had the best shoes, he stuck his tongue out when he dunked, and he was cool. He was the whole package. He even had a commercial/song that unabashedly touted the phrase, “I wanna be like Mike”.
That sentence pretty much summed up my whole existence at that time. I wanted to play basketball for the Bulls, have black shoes, and dunk on everyone. He was the guy I wanted to be like, I wanted to emulate him, I wanted to do what he was doing, I wanted to be just like him. So, I practiced. I practiced, and I practiced. I stuck my tongue out when I dunked on the 7’5” hoop we had in the driveway. I palmed the mini-basketball I won at Lagoon when I did my pump fakes and everything. It was awesome. Watching him made me want to be better.
Last weekend, all that admiration happened again, it was like a flashback. Except this time, I wasn’t watching Michael Jordan. I was watching my little brother Tikes (Tikes is short for Tikes-Bikes, a nickname Tyson gave himself about 10 years ago when we all had blog wars back in the day. Talk about foreshadowing…) do an Ironman. He is awesome. I pretty much have the best little brothers in the world. For another example of how awesome my brothers are, click here.
It was in Guernville California. My wife Catie and I met up with Tyson and his wife, Amanda, to watch him compete in the Vineman Iron Man Triathlon. It was nuts. If you’re not quite sure what that is, imagine if you were a prisoner trying to escape a Russian gulag in the middle of a siberian wasteland 140 miles from the nearest anything. The only real difference is that you willingly sign up for it. It starts with a 2.4 mile swim in a river, immediately followed by a 112 mile bike ride, which, in turn, is immediately followed by a full marathon (26.2 miles). I dropped him off at the starting line by the river at 5:00 a.m. I then, being the supportive brother that I am, went back to where we were staying and fell asleep.
After we (Myself, Catie, and Amanda) all woke up, and met around 8:00 am, we took a nice drive into the nearest town, and sat down in the morning sun, and had an amazing breakfast. This breakfast consisted of a lobster mushroom benedict, and some homemade fresh donuts dusted with sugar and served with a local plum jelly. It was amazing. It was hard work to eat everything, but we showed character, and dedication (almost as much as Tyson) and put our heads down and got the job done. After then relaxing outside at the quaint cafe, we gathered up, made another couple errand stops, and then went out to our planned observation spot. It was a nice shady spot on a sidewalk along the road where the runners and bikers would pass several times during the race. It was now about 11:15 a.m.
By this time, Tyson had finished the swim, and started his bike ride. Actually, he had already passed the spot we picked. Twice. Way to go us. Fans of the year award. We were totally justified though because we were really busy looking for the blackberry tarts he had requested.
As we sat there and cheered on the 2200 participants who were riding their bikes, and then as the runners started to pass us, we were impressed. They came in all shapes and sizes. Some were the traditional looking triathletes (5’9” 160 lbs. 6% body fat) but many were normal ordinary looking people, who were doing this extraordinary thing. It was inspiring. Hour after hour, as we waited and cheered, it was fun to watch.
We eventually did see him as he passed our spot several times during the marathon portion of the event. Each time it was better and better. He looked great. I was so proud of him. It was about that time that I realized, I wanted to be like him. I wanted to do what he was doing, I wanted to be able to swim, bike, and run and endure just like him. I wanted to emulate him. It was just like I was 14 again, wanting to be Michael Jordan, but I was 37 and wanted to be like Tikes.
I had watched him over the last year get ready, plan, train, prepare, work, train, compete, train, and train some more. And it all came to fruition last Saturday over the 11 hours and 38 minutes that he gave everything he had. He had gone from barely being able to swim 25 meters without drowning, to swimming 3,862 meters in an hour and 11 minutes, then biking for 5+ hours, then running a marathon. He didn’t even die. He was awesome.
He and all the others who chose to participate are inspirational. They embody commitment, dedication, hard work, and endurance. Through his example, I want to be better. I want to become something better, and be like him.
This principle is not new, and applies to all aspects of our lives, not just in a physical sense, but in a character sense as well. We live our entire lives following the examples of others. We learn, starting as babies, by watching our parents, siblings, friends, and everyone else. We emulate the actions of those we admire.
Over this last week I have been thinking specifically of all the examples I have close to me, and around me, that make me want to be better. There are several in and out of my ward, my work, and in my own family. Most of them probably don’t even realize how much I look up to them. I just kind of secretly spy on them and their awesomeness from a distance.
This is exactly how I feel about the great men in the Book of Mormon. And, to me, therein lies the power in that book. By reading it, it makes me want to be just like those amazing prophets and leaders. It has the same effect on me as watching Tikes swim, bike and run for 12 hours straight. It Inspires me to emulate the characteristics that make them great. They become my heroes, they are spiritual superstars. Its also full of stories about normal everyday people who developed Christlike characteristics through grinding out a tough life. There are countless examples of dedication, strength, character, commitment, sacrifice, faith, humility, and honor. I want to be like them.
I want to be like Abinidi, and be so committed to my faith that I can stand up for, and defend it in front of an evil king and his wormtongue priests in the face of death threats.
I want to be like Teancum, and be brave enough to sneak alone into the enemy camp and send a spear into the heart of their wicked general, at great personal risk, in order to attempt to end a senseless war, and save the lives of countless innocent soldiers.
I want to be like Antipus, and have the strength to run all day, and then all night, and then all the next day in order to save 2000 young inexperienced volunteer warriors who were willing to be live bait to draw out the enemy. Then be willing to engage that enemy army, completely exhausted, and give up my life to save theirs.
As we take another look at the righteous men and women in the Book of Mormon, it becomes perfectly clear that the characteristics they all display- strength, sacrifice, honor and commitment are developed as they were simply following the examples of previous prophets, or their fathers before them. As we learn more, it is clear that the the ultimate example that they were all striving towards was that of Christ himself. Either by his words found in the scriptures, or by his actual presence in influencing the attitudes, and actions of his people.
“…be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”
-1 Timothy 4:12
“And now, my beloved brethren, I know by this that unless a man shall endure to the end, in following the example of the Son of the living God, he cannot be saved.”
-2 Nephi 31:16
“For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.”
“Behold I am the light; I have set an example for you.”
-3 Nephi 18:16
In Sunday School yesterday, we learned about a good way to envision what changes are necessary in our lives. Instead of saying “we”, or “you” when we discuss what we should do, we change our words into the first person using “I”. It makes things more personal, and meaningful. So, to finish this off, Ill give it a shot.
Good examples are all around me. As I identify who they are, and how they are, and I try to be like them, I will learn that ultimately every good example I have, steers me to be more like my Savior. He is who I need to emulate. I need to learn to love other people like he does. I need to treat everyone around me like he would. I need to forgive, bless, and teach like he did. As I try and change myself and be more like him, and emulate him, I then feel closer to him. And that is where my real happiness is.