24 Hours in Orlando
A friend picked me up for our daily workout this morning at 5am and asked how the weekend went. All I could say was, “how much time do you have?”
On Saturday, August 14th I boarded a flight to Orlando, Florida. My reason for flying was to join my friend Gary Miracle for a 2 mile race we committed to a few months ago. If you are new to this blog or even the Unscripted Podcast, I will give all of the details below. So let’s begin where it all started….
Where It All Started
On March 1st, 2021 I was driving to my first day at a new job. I recently resigned from a position with a company that I gave my heart and soul to for 5 years. It was a new day. I hated leaving that position but I knew that it was the right thing to do. I agreed to work in a consulting role with a friend while continuing to chase and build some other interests that are developing. I figuratively jumped out of a plane with a parachute and hoped it would open. I can still see the moment, place and time. My music tastes are all over the place and, on this day, I chose to listen to some praise and worship music. As I drove around the roundabout I heard these words…..
“Today, it all begins….”
I was immediately interested. I looked at my phone to see the name of the song. It was called “Say I Won’t” by the band MercyMe. By the time the song was over, I was literally pounding the steering wheel and saying it out loud…. “SAY I WON’T!”
When I arrived home that evening, I looked up the video and sat there with tears in my eyes. It was my first time seeing the story of a man named Gary Miracle.
Thanks to the internet, I began to do my research. Who was he? What happened? How did he know MercyMe?
On May 8th, I found an email address for Gary Miracle. He is the man featured in the video. As is my usual procedure for finding guests for the Unscripted Podcast, I simply made the ask. I sent Gary an email. On May 9th, I received his reply below:
Over the course of the next few weeks, Gary and I exchanged further emails. On May 13th we recorded the 88th episode of the Unscripted Podcast. It was the most emotional, moving, inspiring and powerful episode I have ever recorded. Make no mistake, it had nothing to do with me. I just clicked record. Gary joined me for well over an hour and shared his full story. We cried. We laughed. We even made commitments to one another that I will cover later.
What followed that interview and episode is a friendship and brotherhood. Something just clicked. It is no exaggeration to say that Gary and I speak several times a day. Sometimes it’s just gifs or jokes making fun of one another or something dumb I did. It’s a safe space to share our struggles, prayer requests and battles. We lay down our swords and shields via text and carry one another’s burdens.
All because Gary replied to my email.
In our Interview, I committed to Gary that if he would get me a screen shot of his signature and the words “Say I Won’t” written with his prosthetics, I would get a tattoo “somewhere on my person.”
Gary did me one better and committed the following;
“I’m going to be running with my kids in August.”
While all I had to do was get a tattoo (shout out Tattoo Saga and my guy Raison), Gary had a much larger task. It would require daily visits to a facility that would begin the process of preparing him, not only walking, but running as well. That’s gonna be important here in a few paragraphs.
In one of our many text conversations I shared my struggle to get back into some kind of physical shape. I had completely let myself go in a storm of stress and life. I admitted a journey I knew I needed to take to get back into shape. A few days later, Gary posted a link to an August two mile race in Florida with the words:
“Put your money where your mouth is!”
So we did.
Tickets were purchased (see the thank you’s below please), plans were made and the journey toward August 14th and 15th began. Someday I will have to tell the story of the incredible people in my life that knew I made a commitment and care enough about me to get me on the path to getting healthy again. There are several, and I can’t thank them enough. I’m not even remotely close to being there yet but I did want to mention that. That will be a different post for a different time.
24 Hours in Florida
On Wednesday, August 11th, Gary and I posted a quick update as we were nearing the big day on the calendar. In this update, Gary let us know about his progress and told more of the story about how we got this date on the calendar.
I may or may not have jinxed myself because I woke up Saturday morning to messages from Spirit Airlines. Both messages said that my flights had been cancelled. I did what most people do and took my anger to facebook…. “Spirit Airlines Sucks.” I also went to work on Plan B. Did you know that you can take a bus from Ohio to Florida? The cost is roughly the same as a flight and takes several days. Driving my own car would take 16 hours. Luckily, I found a flight on Southwest Airlines and we were back in business. I was at the airport by 2:00pm and wheels down in Orlando at 5:00pm.
When I arrived at the airport, I was greeted by both Gary Miracles. Father and Son. There were hugs and smiles and sighs of relief that it all came together. We left the airport and made our way to dinner. Walking in the restaurant, it was clear to me that Gary is a local hero and legend. We were greeted by multiple people on our way in saying hello and wishing Gary luck in the morning. I came to find out that he won two track and field state titles in High School. “He was a great athlete in High School” his dad would later say.
We spent the next several hours just getting to know one another. Our text conversations were now real life conversations. Picking right up where we left off. I was welcomed like a member of the family and it meant everything to me. I was immersed into Garys world and the challenges he faces and overcomes now. For example, something that many of us take for granted, like cutting a steak. There were no complaints. No moments of frustration. Just a “Say I Won’t” attitude and on we went.
Once we arrived at his home, I had the chance to meet his children and his amazing mom. I was so busy meeting the kids that I missed mom completely (sorry Mrs. Miracle). I was amazed at how everyone knew their role. Laundry was done, beds were made and Gary led his family. He had each child lay out their clothes for the early wakeup (5:30am) the next morning. That is also when this happened….
In the Miracle home, this is what is known as the “Bro Prayer.” I just happened to be sitting at the table organizing my flight for the next day when I saw it. I felt bad taking a picture of such an intimate moment. It was real and they had no idea I stole this picture. You had to be there. He prayed over his boys and I was immediately challenged to be a better father and example for my children. This happens every night. It wasn’t for a photo op. This is Gary. This is who he is.
We had an early morning so everyone headed off to bed. They were kind enough to give me the room of his youngest son. As I plugging in all of my devices (ipad, phone, beats, watch), I saw this on the chalkboard wall in his youngest sons room.
This is not just a song. It’s not just an anthem. It is a family creed and one that they have all bought into. Throughout the house, music played on their Amazon powered devices. Praise music. Christian music. As I sat on the bed to retire for the night, the song “Say I Won’t” (referenced above) played throughout the house. I was sitting in the home of the man featured in the video, that responded to my email, allowed me into his village and hearing the song that started it all. My eyes teared up and I sent a text to those in my village. I tried to record a video so they could hear it too. It was the most surreal moment. I went to bed looking forward to what the morning would bring.
The house was buzzing as we got 4 kids and Gary ready for the big day. I cannot say enough how impressed I was with the 4 children as they were dressed and ready to go. I walked in the living room and Garys oldest son was helping him prep with the various stages necessary to wear his blades. He knew all of the steps and everything that needed to be done just right to avoid injury and sores. It was remarkable. I asked if I could take some pictures.
What a remarkable young man. You just had to be there to hear the care and love this child placed on getting his dad ready. Simply remarkable. One of my favorite moments of the morning was when Gary said “Alexa, play Say I Won’t by Mercyme. All Speakers. Volume 10!” We all got pumped up just before heading out of the house.
We arrived at the race site and immediately were met with so many people that were there just for Gary. Strangers and friends came up to tell him their story and that they were there because of him. Photos were taken, race bibs were applied and before you knew it, they announced the start of the race. We made our way to the start line just in time for the National Anthem and a sunrise only Florida could provide.
Prior to the start, the race organizers recognized Gary and all of those that were there to support him on this incredible day. One thing that Gary and his dad beamed about was the incredible team at Prosthetics and Orthotic Associates in Florida. This facility and their staff are a community. Their unique setup creates a culture where all of the recovering athletes and patients can meet to bond as they get back to achieving their goals. One athlete that has connected with Gary is Marko Cheseto. He is a double amputee and world record holder. I want you all to meet him too.
Marko was one of the first to greet us as we arrived. Just his presence at this event and with Gary was so inspiring. Marko actually took off at the beginning of the race and finished somewhere in the top 5. He called it a “recovery run” as he had run 18 miles the day before and didn’t want to risk injury. After blowing away the competition, Marko re-joined the rest of us to encourage and guide Gary through the remaining mile or so. I asked Marko how long he had been on his blades and he said “10 years.” I followed that up by asking how many years it was until he was fully ready to compete. He said “4 or 5 years.” It is here that I want to mention that Gary got his blades in June.
This event took place in August.
Gary fought, battled and even sacrificed the entire 2 miles. Having done several half marathons and one full marathon in myself, I will say this is the equivalent of an ironman marathon. Given the challenges and newness of the situation, I cannot stress enough how hard this 2 miles is for anyone just getting started. It was remarkable to see his drive and fight.
One of the things that Gary refers to so often is his “village.” I promise you that his village is strong. The course was lined with friends, family, churches, teams and local groups all there to support him. The scene at the finish line is something no video or picture can capture. There were tears of joy and a celebration as he rounded the final turn and crossed the finish line. He finished the race. With his father on one said, his sister on the other and his mom waiting just across the line, he completed his goal. He held true to his commitment. The embrace of family at the end was more than a photo can capture.
When it was all over, there were interviews, photos and more participants surrounding Gary to share their appreciation. He was honored at the award ceremony by the race promoters and once again received the applause he is due. As we were getting ready to leave, I once again caught a moment that wasn’t for the photos or the crowd. It was a father leading his children. It was a chance to huddle one more time.
My return flight was scheduled for the afternoon so things moved very quickly. I had the honor of sharing a 45 minute drive with Garys dad. We talked about Gary. We talked about being dads. We talked about how incredible this 24 hours was. When we arrived at the airport I hugged him and thanked him for allowing me to be a part of their family. Once through the TSA, I sat at my gate and began to reflect on how blessed I am. I have so many people to thank (see below). I am blessed that Gary responded to my email. I am blessed I got to be a part of his journey for this 24 hours. I am blessed to call him my friend.
As I close, I simply must say thank you to all that have supported this.
Thank you to the title sponsor of the Unscripted Podcast for purchasing my ticket to Orlando.
Thank you to my family for allowing me the time to be there and supporting this dream I am chasing.
Thank you to my dad who text and said “whatever you need while you’re gone, put it on the card and I’ll cover it.”
Thank you to a very special friend that sent me a text that said “check your venmo.” She sent me money to “take Gary out to dinner.”
Thank you to my guys Dave and Doug who get me up every morning to get myself into shape with the F3 Columbus crew.
Thank you to my bride for always believing, loving, listening and supporting my many dreams.
Thank you to all of you that took the time to read this. You’re the ones that have liked, shared, listened, posted and commented on all the socials. None of that is lost on me.
Thank you to the Miracle family. You invited me into your home and your lives. A complete stranger. I won’t ever forget it.
Last and certainly not least, thank you Gary Miracle for responding to an email. You’re my brother, my hero and my friend. I love you and I’ll see you for that Christmas run!