Big Daddy Runs

Scott Surface

Upon entering the Buena Vista Historical Museum to check in for Stage One of the GORE-TEX TransRockies Run, a surge of nerves can be clearly seen making an abrupt impression on the slim, goateed face of Josh Henderson.  The 6’1” former football lineman and collegiate discus thrower has been riding waves of exhilaration all week, interspersed with gut-wrenching bouts of worry.  Currently he is in the midst of envisioning the worst case scenario: plodding through a dizzying day of uphill climbs through sandy singletrack, as he wheezes behind the bionic Ultramarathon Man, Dean Karnazes.

Will his pace be fast enough? Does he have what it takes to complete the 22 mile loop out of Buena Vista, CO?  What will his wife say if he is unable to finish? What the 36-year-old has yet to realize, however, is that he ascended the most daunting hill two years ago — he started running.

At the goading of his tenacious wife Erin, author of the inspiring blog, Josh Henderson began jogging in the spring of 2009.  Erin had decided it was time for the couple to make a lifestyle change, and Josh’s 297 pound frame would have to transform as a result of it.

“My wife does everything for us,” explains Josh. “I’m happy to support her with whatever she is inspired to take on.”  So naturally, the laid- back and charismatic advertising and design manager at the Star Valley Independent Weekly Newspaper, compliantly joined his wife on that fateful day in 2009.

The couple began with a two mile loop — alternating half-mile shuffles with stints of walking.  Just a few months later, on July 24, 2009, the Hendersons successfully completed their first race together, the Deseret News 10k at the University of Utah (Josh’s first race ever, Erin’s second).  But Erin wouldn’t let her running quest stop there.  “Erin is amazing.  She is full of love, and never does anything half-way.  I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her belief in me and what we can accomplish together.”

Energized by her experience racing on an all-women’s team at Ragnar in June 2010, Erin signed both of them up for the Las Vegas R&R Marathon.  Josh opted for the half, and after a solid 2:05 finish, noted the ongoing changes he was experiencing due to his improved fitness.  “I feel physically better.  Now when I pick up my kids I think, ‘Man, I used to carry around this much extra weight around on my body!’”  Erin finished the 26.2 in 4:15, building her confidence in her ability to push her limits farther.

Now, this would be an awesome story on its own, especially since Josh has lost nearly one hundred pounds.  But when you consider how little time he has to train, the story becomes even more interesting.

Josh and Erin have twelve children.  Three of them are biological; one is adopted from Vietnam, one from South Korea.  Two siblings from Mississippi, a baby boy from South Carolina, and three boys and a girl from Ethiopia.  Some of them have special needs, or are HIV+, a condition that Josh wisely characterizes as “a chronic but manageable disease that few people are properly educated on.”

So yes, these are the modern-day saints you occasionally run into.  But where do they find time for training?  To them it’s a simple equation: balance, trust and communication.

Similar to their approach to adoption, which was originally a quest to add a single member to their family of five, Josh listens to his wife’s passionate ideas, asks her how the undertaking can be feasibly managed, and letting the rest of the puzzle be solved by faith.

Erin and Josh wake up early, she heads out the door for her run, while Josh fixes the kids breakfast and gets them ready to head out the door.  Erin returns just in time to kiss them goodbye, and then it is his turn to put in some miles, running or biking on the trail.  Josh particularly looks forward to the weekends, when they are often able to run together for an hour or two.

At the starting line of Stage One, Josh had shaken off the majority of the nerves.  He looks calm, semi-rested, and ready to get going.  When the gun sounds, Josh — who is running this stage as a result of Erin winning the “Run a Day with Dean Karnazes” essay contest — takes off at a relaxed clip.  Through the first aid station he feels strong, but as the sand and heat become more intense, the cramping begins to set in.

During the final seven miles, “Big Daddy” would pick out points to run to, and then walk for a bit and try to convince his legs to stride it out again.  While there were some serious lows, he seemed to thoroughly enjoyed the beauty of the surroundings; noting his wonder at the shiny flecks of sand on the trail, along with the Lego-like rock stacks and swooping mountains along the way.

Rounding the bend to the finish, a combination of relief, exhaustion and accomplishment can be read in his smile.  Josh has made it in under 4:30, a secondary goal he mentions matter-of-factly.   What makes you do these sorts of things? is a question that he and his wife receive quite frequently for their not-so-cookie-cutter lifestyle.  His response and mantra these days: “When’s the last time you’ve done something for the first time?”

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