Friday, December 28, 2012

Is Socialism a Good Thing?

***This is a post I wrote four years ago on our family blog.  I thought I would dust it off and put it on my personal blog as well.  I've also added some dialogue between a friend and me on the issue in response to my post.

Recently I've had a number of conversations, both in and out of the Church, on the topic of socialism. Often a certain line of questioning emerges from those who are partial to the idea of socialism. It goes something like this: Christ taught that we should serve one another. He and his disciples have taught the importance of charity. Isn't socialism just Christianity put into practice by government? How can true Christians have a problem with socialism? Does not Christian theology require its adherents to share their wealth with others?

It's tempting to take the easy path and say that, "Yes, socialism and Christianity are similar." One is only the cheap copy of the other. The consequences of each are completely different. One leads men to a higher plane of existence, encouraging them to work harder for one another based on true love. The other, sadly, leads to men seeking power and authority over one another, which is so easily abetted by the willingness of people to surrender their personal responsibility for their own welfare to others.

President Ezra Taft Benson spoke often about the dangers and evil of communism and its sublte predecessor, socialism. In a conference address he stated: "We must ever keep in mind that collectivized socialism is part of the communistic strategy...What is socialism? It is simply governmental ownership or management of the essential means for the production and distribution of goods...What can priesthood holders do? We should become informed about communism, socialism and about Americanism...We should treat socialistic-communism as the tool of Satan."

Further he stated the following: "A category of government activity which, today, not only requires the closest scrutiny, but which also poses a grave danger to our continued freedom, is the activity NOT within the proper sphere of government. No one has the authority to grant such powers, as welfare programs, schemes for re-distributing the wealth, and activities which coerce people into acting in accordance with a prescribed code of social planning. There is one simple test. Do I as an individual have a right to use force upon my neighbor to accomplish this goal? If I do have such a right, then I may delegate that power to my government to exercise on my behalf. If I do not have that right as an individual, then I cannot delegate it to government, and I cannot ask my government to perform the act for me…In reply to the argument that a little bit of socialism is good so long as it doesn't go too far, it is tempting to say that, in like fashion, just a little bit of theft or a little bit of cancer is all right, too! History proves that the growth of the welfare state is difficult to check before it comes to its full flower of dictatorship. But let us hope that this time around, the trend can be reversed. If not then we will see the inevitability of complete socialism, probably within our lifetime."

The law of consecration stands in juxtaposition to the idea of socialism. The law of consecration is based on agency. Individuals are free to participate in the Lord's plan based on their love for one another as directed by priesthood leadership. True understanding and willing participation in the law of consecration will lead people to perform their best and not seek something for nothing. History has proven that socialism has the opposite effect. Groups in power use it to obtain greater power, wealth and resources from those who are willing to work hard. This decreases the desire of those who are productive to produce. Socialism also leads to people wanting more in return for less. A close look at the history of socialism in practice bears out these statements.

Our current economic crisis, despite claims to the contrary, is the result of a developing welfare/socialistic state in the United States. The housing crisis alone is directly tied to the rise of socialism. Government programs were introduced to push people into mortgages they could not afford...because they had the same right to a house as the wealthy family across town. Based on this ideology, members of government, elected and appointed, pushed lending institutions to lend money to those who were unqualified and unable to afford the loans they received. At the same time, people loyal to those in power were put into positions of authority to push the socialist agenda of everyone deserving the same thing as directed by the government. These people, once in positions of authority, fulfilled their true duty of paying back their benefactors through campaign contributions and other kickbacks.

Those who took the loans were not innocent either. They were willing to take something they hadn't earned and couldn't afford because they considered it their right. They let the greed of "necessity" hold sway over personal responsibility. As housing values tumbled, the house of cards came with it. Suddenly, the reality of their situation hit them. Those responsible, government, lenders and home owners, decided to blame the greed of the capitalists. When in truth, those banks who held to the ideals of captialism, avoided the governmental pressure to make unwise loans based on the gree of "necessity" have remained solvent and are still able to make loans. It was the greed of those who, for their own reasons, pushed home ownership on those who were not ready that are truly responsible. Instead they have sought to blame those who were least responsible. Meanwhile, those of us who were not directly at fault for the problem are now expected to come to the rescue.

Socialism destroys personal responsibility, a tenet central to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Socialism encourages its staunchest adherents to demand others to help them with their problems.

Dialogue in Comments from Original Post:
From Friend:
I really find this topic fascinating. I grew up in Canada, which has socialized healthcare. It is actually a healthcare system that is envied by many Americans. Canada's citizens do pay higher taxes, but in return they are able to see a doctor or go to the emergency room, have surgery, have their bill paid for, and not ever have to worry about going bankrupt because their child, or someone in their family falls ill. Women have one year of maternity leave, paid by the government, compared to our 6 weeks of maternity leave. Granted, Canada has its problems and faults as does every nation, especially with immigration regulations as of the past 15 years or so, but as a whole it provides a comfortable way of life for its citizens. Is Canada then, considered a socialistic country? Does that make Canada doomed? I can promise you that my family feels no more controlled by their government then we do by ours. I think there are obviously extremes to socialism, for example dictating how many children a family can have, etc., but I have to say that some socialized programs seem to work well for other countries, and it isn't sending them on the highway to communism. I agree it is something we need to be cautious of as a nation, and I don't take words of the prophets lightly, I just wonder if it really is a black and white issue. There will always be some form of socialism in a country who provides its citizens with needs dependent on their taxes. 

My Reply:
Canada is no more doomed than the United States. There have been strong socialist policies in the United States for decades and it will likely only continue in that direction.

As far as Canada's health care system, I much prefer ours. It's interesting that so many of Canada's government and business leaders come to the United States for any major healthcare. Socialized healthcare very seldom produces any new breakthroughs in new technology. They wait for other places to do so and then use it. If the US system goes socialized, advances in healthcare will slow down greatly.

I absolutely do not think that the healthcare system here in the US is perfect. It has major faults, which prevent people from being able to afford healthcare who should be able to afford it. Those problems, however, are in large part the consequence of too much government involvement and oversight and the threat of exorbitant lawsuits. Greed is the underlying cause, but the mix of broken government policies at every level have contributed to the problem. More government involvement is not the better option.

I do have a problem with governments paying women for maternity leave. It is my responsibility to take care of my children. I have no right to expect other taxpayers to pay for my children because I choose to have more than someone else.

I think so much more can be done by individuals who are doing it for the right reasons and because they want to.

President Benson recognized the danger of a little socialism creeping into our society. Much of what he predicted in the 1950s came to fruition in the United States, Canada and Europe. European economies largely have stagnated. Healthcare in France, UK, or Spain isn't much better than healthcare was in the US back in the 1960s. But, the biggest danger of socialism, which he recognized is that it allows people to abrogate responsibility for themselves onto the government and it gives government power over the people by making them dependent.

The issue should be black and white, but the mixture of socialism into our societies have muddied up the issue. It is now difficult to tell up from down. When it comes to being controlled by the government, they don't want us to feel controlled and many in government don't even think of it that way. But, look at farmers in both the US and Canada. They are dependent on government subsidies for their survival. They farm in the way the government prescribes or they don't get the subsidy and their farms fail. The same thing is true for education. States are forced to enact government programs that may not be viewed favorably by the local population. However, if they don't teach what the federal government dictates or pay for the programs dictated, the school loses federal funding. The list goes on and on. We are more controlled by our governments than we want to realize--it's just nice not to feel like it.

From Friend:
Just some thoughts I had in regards to your comments on Canada's healthcare system. I am curious why you prefer ours? This is an interesting article that relays some of the thoughts I had when bringing up Canada in the first place.
I hope you will look it over, and share your thoughts. Canada's life expectancy is actually higher then the US due in part to the "accessibility" of healthcare there. You claimed that the US has greater technological advances in healthcare, but it benefits our citizens little if they cannot afford to access it in the first place. The US spends more then Canada in healthcare, and actually almost every other industrialized nation, and has far less to show for it. Canada is not stuck in the 60's in healthcare in regards to other European socialist countries. Actually, it is very progressive and quite competitive with other nations, including the US. I don't know why wealthy Canadians would cross the border to pay for services they can get in their own country, unless under a few specific cases a rare specialist was sought after. I am not refuting that it never happens, but I don't think it is the norm. My point is, any way you look at it, and there are endless articles to support it - the US ranks lower in healthcare then almost every other industrialized nation. Most of those nations have Universal Healthcare.
I apologize if I am straying from socialism as a whole here, I just don't see how our current healthcare system is preferrable?
I suppose another aspect in all this to consider is our personal experiences. Those who work for the government and military have much more reasonable healthcare costs compared to the rest of middle class society, because they are subsidized by the...government. Would you agree or disagree?

I appreciate your thoughts.

My Reply:
Thanks for the article. First, I acknowledge that the healthcare system in the United States has serious flaws. If regular market forces were allowed to operate in the healthcare system a number of things would occur. First, almost every aspect of care would be more affordable. This would greatly benefit those who work hard to enough to pay for their healthcare. It would also make it easier for charitable organizations to help pay for healthcare for those who are struggling.

Based on my thesis research on healthcare issues in Russia and the former Soviet Union, it is likely that the best explanation for differences in demographics between Canada and the US is due to lifestyle in the US. Many citizens of the US have allowed themselves to go to excesses in eating, have given up exercise for a sedentary lifestyle and don't take healthcare seriously until it is late in the game. Part of this is because they have always had healthcare within easy reach. As the article you sent mentions, the US is doing quite well in preventitive medicine, but that is a new innovation and will take a few more years to impact life expectancies.

Personally, I think that the biggest problem is that the US healthcare system is neither a free-market system nor a socialized system. It's a nasty hybrid, that is of huge benefit to those who can afford it and a huge burden to those who cannot. Whereas, socialized systems such as Canada's are largely mediocre for everyone involved.

Please see the article at:

Here are a couple of major problems I see with socialized medicine.
1. Freedom of choice often becomes more and more limited.

2. It encourages people to put responsibility for their healthcare on the government. My study of the Soviet and Russian socialized healthcare systems, the most egalitarian and progessive healthcare system ever instituted, destroyed any sense of personal responsibility for health among the population. It was deeply saddening to read the interviews from surveys of Russians who stated repeatedly that they weren't concerned about their health because it was the government's duty to take care of them.

3. Without a profit motive in a market there is little incentive for the inidustry to innovate and save costs. As a result, many cities and regions of Canada are suffering the same fate as healthcare in Russia--not enough resources to meet all the demands.

4. When something is offered for free that is in limited supply, such as healthcare, the system is overloaded. People are not forced to consider the true value of what they are receiving.

5. The result of number 4 is ever increasing taxes so that the government can meet its obligations--or as in the case of the Soviet Union, healthcare is pushed to side in favor of other socialist projects or military spending. The result is a population that no longer knows how to take care of itself without government intervention.

Now, as I mentioned, the US system is not perfect. I think there is still time to save it from being socialized which will start a long-term downward trend into mediocrity, loss of freedom, and increasing taxes.

Health has a value. A free market forces people to consider that value and to work hardeer in order to be able to afford and to take care of themselves. The study you mentioned looks at a number of nations that have socialized their healthcare recently. I would encourage you to take a look at countries who had socialized healthcare for more than 70 years. The former Soviet Republics and Eastern European countries all instituted socialized medicine and had initial results that were excellent. Life expectancies increased and with them the quality of life. However, in the later stages, when the socialized economies collapsed, healthcare took the largest hit. Today, many of those countries continue to provide universal healthcare and they have seen little improvement and often a decrease in life expectancies.

While Canada is unlikely to ever end up a Communist dictatorship like the Soviet Union, programs like socialized medicine do force the government to take increasing control as programs begin to struggle.

I hope we can someday make healthcare more affordable in the US. There are several proposals out there that would help. Our problem is that we have allowed government and HMOs to basically socialize healthcare for us, by taking the decisions out of our hands and out of the hands of the doctors. The current system in the US works in favor of the HMOs, and they don't want to give up their profits or influence. Our healthcare system is not governed completely by free market principles and we are paying the price.

As far as government healthcare, while in the military we were part of the most socialized healthcare system in the United States. It was nice to not have to worry about paying for our health needs, but we had the same problems as other socialized citizens. We didn't make the major decisions regarding our healthcare. Many people in the military system go into the doctor at the first sign of the sniffles, needlessy overwhelming the system. My experience with the military healthcare system only sharpened my criticism of socialized healthcare.

Below is the link to another interesting article:

- Jarad Van Wagoner

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Cowboy (Country) Christmas Songs

With Christmas approaching I wanted to share some good old country/cowboy Christmas music.

Let me know if you want me to add any other videos to this short collection.

Willie Nelson - Pretty Papers

Loretta Lynn - Country Christmas

John Denver - Christmas for Cowboys

Merle Haggard - Santa Claus and Popcorn

Dolly Parton - Hard Candy Christmas

Alabama - Christmas in Dixie

Charley Pride - Christmas in My Hometown

Chris Ledoux - Twas the Night Before Christmas

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Confessions of a Ragnarian

Confession is good for the soul, especially when you're confessing the sins of others.  The story that follows may or may not have been observed in person; it's entirely impossible that I heard this second or third hand, or that I was directly involved.  In attempt to make the story easy to read, I'll tell in in the first person.  (Also, some names may or may not have been changed in this telling of the story.)

These events took place as our van was halfway through the third leg of the Las Vegas Ragnar.  We were exhausted and looking forward to passing the slap bracelet off to Van 2.  With the sun slowly rising in the east above the mountains, we were waiting somewhere in Henderson for one of our runners to come into the exchange.  The lack of sleep and physical exhaustion was contributing to the beginning of what would become a moderately high level of hooliganism. 

It started with a quick text to Van 2 as an attempt to help wake them up:

"Ragnar Command Center.  First violation for indecent exposure."

It was sent from a phone with an area code that wouldn't be recognized quickly by our geographically separated teammates.  Within about five minutes I received a text from my father:

"What did you guys do?" 

Before I even finished reading it to the rest of our van, my phone rang.

It was my dad, sounding a bit tired and out of sorts:

"What did you guys do?"

"What do you mean?  What happened?"

"We just got a violation strike from the Ragnar folks for indecent exposure.  What did you guys do?"

"I can't think of anything.  Did you guys do something?  We've been busy running."

"No, we've been sleeping in the van.  We didn't do anything."

"Mmm, well, Huyser did lose a bet and had to run naked through a neighborhood.  It was dark though."

A short pause then, "Don't you think that might be the reason for the violation?"

Unable to control my laughter I quickly confessed to the prank text.  The fact that they believed Huyser capable and willing to run through a neighborhood naked was both disturbing and hilarious.

Our appetites for laughter at the expense of others whetted, we quickly thought of another team to text.

"Ragnar Command Center.  First violation for indecent exposure."

In short order a return text arrived:

"What indecent exposure?  What did we do?"

Reply: "This is a family friendly event.  Indecent exposure will not be tolerated.  If you wish to appeal, please reply to this text with this statement: 'Appeal to Violation 142: Nudity with Intent to Harm.'  We do, however, have digital images of the individual(s) committing the infraction."

After waiting a number of minutes we sent another text to them:

"Ragnar Command Center.  Second violation for obscene language to race staff or a volunteer."

A few short minutes later we receive a reply:

"We didn't use obscene language with anyone.  We would like to appeal this as well as the first violation."

"We received multiple notifications of obscene language used against an elderly volunteer at one of the exchanges.  In order to appeal both violations, please reply to this text with this statement: 'Appeal to Violation 142: Nudity with Intent to Harm."

Quickly we received the text with the phrase: "Appeal to Violation 142: Nudity with Intent to Harm."

With a sudden burst of overwhelming guilt, one of our teammates who is friends with the target of our texts called them, on speaker phone, to make sure they weren't making any direct inquiries to the real Ragnar Command Center.

Upon answering the phone our teammate asks, "So, have you received any violations?"

"Oh my, was that you.  You've given me a bad case of diarrhea.  Those texts looked so official.  We've been scared to death trying to figure out what we did.  I mean I did change while sitting up in the van and I wondered if someone else saw me.  I'm ready to start popping Xanax."

Throughout the conversation we couldn't help but laugh at their expense and at our cleverness.  After several profuse, but entirely insincere, apologies, we began making plans for even better prank texts at the next Ragnar. 

At the next van exchange we followed up on our first prank text to our own teammates.  They admitted to doing some soul searching to determine what they might have done to prompt a violation text.  One person was concerned that his actions were misconstrued as he washed his hands at the back of the van.  Another was concerned that she had been observed taking a mid-run potty break between two buildings.  It's funny how when accused of doing something improper that our first reaction is to look guiltily inward.  Oh, and more than one person in our other van expressed little or no surprise at the idea of Huyser running around in the nude somewhere.

Remember, exhibiting nudity with intent to harm will not be tolerated!  Ragnar on my friends!

Check out some of my other posts on my running adventures:
Emmalee Achieves Hero Status
Why I Ragnar
The Art of the Marathon

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Emmalee Achieves Hero Status

My oldest daughter Emmalee is one of my heroes. In so many aspects of her life she's not afraid to take the more difficult path or to try new things that are unlikely to be easy or simple or comfortable.  Where so many people today, especially young people, are happy to coast along in life, avoiding hard work and commitment, Emmalee is constantly stepping forward and looking for the challenges.  She's not necessarily the best at everything she does, but she is willing to try and experience so much.

Unfortunately, she doesn't always consider doing the dishes or cleaning her room as challenges worthy of her attention, but that's okay because I don't like those things either.

In school Emmalee works hard, taking the difficult courses so she can learn as much as possible.  She's my hero because she's not afraid to be a nerd, (even though she probably wouldn't choose that word).

I love to watch Emmalee play sports.  She loves to win, but even more importantly she loves to play well and to have her team play well.  I've seen her satisfied after a loss when she played well and I've seen her frustrated with her play after a solid win.  Last year she tried a new sport, lacrosse, and is excited to play it again this year.

This fall, Emmalee ran two long relay races, the Red Rock Zion from above Cedar City to Springdale Utah and the Las Vegas Ragnar.  At each race she ran a total of around 14 miles between three separate legs.  Her last leg of the Red Rock was 7 miles in 100 degree heat in southern Utah.  With teammates putting towels soaked in ice water on her head and shoulders she managed to finish the leg. 

For the Las Vegas Ragnar she was assigned a position that included a 9.4 mile run for her third and final leg.  When we asked her if she wanted to do a different leg, she hesitated, considering the challenge.  She took the challenge turning down the offer to have someone run part of it for her.  I was in a different van for this race and didn't get to see her run.  My father, her grandfather, told me that she was strong through the first three miles, maintaining a good pace.  At the six mile point, when they told her the distance remaining tears filled her eyes and she questioned her wisdom, strength and ability.  Shutting out the encouragement of her grandfather and teammates, she walked forward until she could run again.

I doubt that she realizes or understands the lessons she learned as part of her recent run or other endeavors.  As her father I see her growing in confidence and ability.  I see her learning to push forward past the point of wanting to quit.  I see her sacrificing to finish something worthwhile.  I see her learning to push past her own pain and discomfort for the welfare of her teammates and others.  I see her learning to look at new challenges and know that she can do it or at least have fun trying.  I see her preparing for the unforeseen and unexpected challenges.  I see her becoming a capable and dependable young woman, wife and mother.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


Dear President Obama and Supporters,

Congratulations on your victory.  It was a hard fought battle, as it should have been, and you came out victorious.  The wonderful thing about America is we get what we vote for on election day.  I am an American and I want what is best for this great nation.  I hope and I pray that President Obama is able to govern in a way that improves the lives of all Americans, regardless of social standing, race, or gender.

It is important, however, to point out that at this point, that after four years in office, Mr. President,  you and your supporters are largely responsible for the condition of this country.  I must admit that I lack confidence that you will make decisions and implement policies that will improve our economy and standing in the world.  For your first two years in office, Mr. President, you and yours party controlled the executive and legislative branches of our government.  The efforts and policies stemming from that period have failed to produce results that improve our economy.  Over the past two years, you have failed to work in a bipartisan manner with the House of Representatives to improve our economy.  A more perfect union does not include unprecedented levels of deficit spending, crushing debt, a weak foreign policy and the current level of unemployment.  The days of casting blame and aspersion on President Bush are past.  President Obama, you and your supporters own the last four years.

President Obama, you and your supporters own the high unemployment rate.  You own the fact that over 24 million of our citizens are unemployed and that many have simply given up looking for work.  You own our anemic economic growth that is insufficient to keep up with our growing population.  You own our rising debt and deficit spending.  You own our nation's credit rating.

President Obama, you and your supporters own the fact that we haven't passed a national budget for three years.

President Obama, you and your supporters own high and rising gas prices.  You own the continuing housing crisis.

President Obama, you and your supporters own the full and pending impact of Obamacare, the good and the bad.

President Obama, you and your supporters own the clean up and recovery from Hurricane Sandy.  

President Obama, you and  your supporters own the results of a foreign policy that has weakened us abroad.  You own the events in Bhengazi.  You own the results of our policy in the middle east.  You own the security of our military and public servants overseas.

President Obama, you and your supporters own the problem of illegal immigration.  You own the results of a porous border and ineffectual immigration policy.

Again, President Obama, you and your supporters own the results of the past four years and you just took responsibility for the next four years.  Shifting blame is no longer a viable option.  Our situation demands real change and real improvement.  Where you are right, I will support you.  Where you are wrong, I will fight against you.

I list the problems above, not out of bitterness, but out of hope.  I hope you will find solutions for our problems.  I hope you will spend less time on the golf course, and more time meeting with your Jobs Council and attending your daily intelligence briefing.  I hope you will spend more time reaching across the aisle to seek the input and support of the ideas represented by half of our population.  The past four years have left me underwhelmed and disappointed in your policies and overall commitment to the job of being president.  America has given you another four years to get it right.  Please give the job and the welfare of the American people the same devotion your supporters just gave you.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Experimental (Trail) Running - Ragnar

The light reflected back into my eyes, bouncing off the rain drops and my condensed breath.  Stumbling through the ankle deep mud and the rocks, I reached a hand up to adjust the settings on my headlamp hoping to get even a little more visibility.  It was no use.  At most, when my breath cleared, I could see the ground three or four feet in front of me...just not enough to make out the rocks buried under the mud.  As carefully and deliberately as I could I continued to race forward, slowing to a walk when necessary.

Soon the trail narrowed, moving into the trees toward the edge of what seemed to be a deep ravine.  Among the pinon I was forced to look up from the ground more often in order to find the trail markers, strands of green ribbon and reflective tape, hung from trees at intervals along the trail.  Catching the glimpse of a cabin off to my left, I looked back down at the ground pushing forward.  Suddenly I hit a ribbon tied between to trees.  Stopping I looked around and found the green trail marker off to my right.  Green trail--green trail markers.  Adjusting course I took off, forced into a U-turn that began the descent into the ravine.  Shortly after making the turn down into the ravine, I was rewarded with a largely rock and mud free trail.  I increased speed taking advantage of the clear trail and the force of gravity.

Peering ahead I hoped to see any dangerous conditions in time to slow down before careening into a tree or off the trail into the ravine.  Rapidly a sharp corner with a bank approached.  I applied the brakes, sliding into the corner.  I managed the turn and stepped out again.  Similar situations repeated a few more times until the angle of descent lessened, introducing large puddles across the now sandy trail.  More than once I was left with no choice but to plow through the water, freshly filling my shoes with more run off.

At the bottom of the ravine the trail was wide making it easy to follow.  On my right I passed a few runners on the return trail, heading back up the side of the ravine.  My legs were burning from running through the mud and pounding down the hill.  Fighting the temptation to jump across to the other trail, I pressed on, anticipating the turn around, know that just beyond the turn around an extremely deep gully lay waiting.  Hopefully it was as well marked as promised.

There it was the turn around.  A brave volunteer stood in the cold rain, in front of a bright, orange ribbon, making sure the runners turned back on the correct trail.  Muttering a quick, "Thank you," I made the turn and instantly found myself on a very narrow trail choked with roots and rocks.  Within twenty yards of the turn my foot caught a root hard and I went down, just catching myself with my gloved hands before I face planted in the mud.

Vision became an issue again as the trail became narrow and moved through the trees and rocks.  Luckily the incline wasn't too steep at first.  Eventually I broke into an open area away from the trees and into some bushes.  Once again I wasn't sure if I was still on the trail and began to fill a bit of anxiety build until I found a trail marker hung low on a bush next to the trail.  I pushed forward with a forced sense of confidence.

Soon the trail turned back, splitting away from the descent trail.  The incline increased and the trail went from single track to a rutted ATV trail.  Foot placement was of the utmost importance as I was often forced to jump from side to side up the ruts.  Once turning a corner I jumped a small stream crossing the trail and hit a small, muddy hill.  My legs churned, my feet slipped and I was forced to turn around and slide down.  The only way up was to force my feet into the soft mud on the side of the rut and walk up.

Moving ahead I could hear the music and cheers coming from the runners village.  Knowing my teammate awaited, I pushed on, hoping I was close.  Looking up to my right in the direction of the exchange, I saw a light form a building above me.  Somewhat demoralized I realized I was still had a good climb ahead of me.  Now on a small dirt road I had to deal with standing water from the rain and small rocks falling into my shoes as they sank below the mud.  A number of side trails and roads peeled off.  Again I wondered if I was on the right path.  I hadn't seen a trail marker for awhile and I wondered if I had missed one.  Remembering the admonition that if I stayed on the path I would see another trail marker, I kept going.  Soon I was rewarded with another trail marker.

With the steepening incline I forced my burning thighs to lift my mud caked feet and place them in front of me.  No longer running, I felt as though I was moving in slow motion.  I saw the beam of another runner's headlamp coming up behind me and soon heard their splashing footsteps.  Shortly the runner passed me, taking advantage of their lighter frame and well-conditioned legs.  Exchanging the normal pleasantries he pulled away from me.

Finally, another volunteer was in front of me asking my team number, giving me encouragement.  I was excited, thinking the village was just around the next corner.  I wasn't.  I had another ten minutes or more to go through the thickening mud, suddenly worried again about falling down.  At one point, walking through the deepening mud I looked down and couldn't see much skin on my legs.  They were the same color as the splashing mud.

With only a couple hundred more yards to go and the clock approaching midnight, I looked down blew out a breath and started to run again, stepping into a deep puddle because there was not other option.  The conditions were perfect and a large drop of muddy water splashed directly into my mouth.  Spitting, I ran on, turned the final corner and saw the large orange arch.  Following the sputtering tiki torches and the light of the bonfire, I picked up my pace, sort of, almost sprinting into the exchange.

I waved my arm, acknowledging the cheers of the other teams and the congratulations of the race directors.

As I reached down to pull off the timing band, the race director looked at me with worried eyes and asked, "How was it?  Are you okay?"

With mud on my face and dirt in my mouth, I smiled and said, "It was awesome!  Only two legs left to run."

***Please share this post!

- Jarad Van Wagoner

Check out my previous post on the Ragnar: "Why I Ragnar" 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

LDS Values and Conservative Ethos

Yesterday was the first ever national meeting of the LDS Democrats Caucus in Charlotte, NC as part of the Democratic National Convention.  Several of those present, including Senator Harry Reid, explained how their LDS beliefs and values coincide and reinforce their political ideology.  Deseret News provided an excellent article on the meeting (link below).  It's always interesting for me to see a group of people who share so many ideas and beliefs in common have such a different idea of how those beliefs should impact the public sphere.  In this post I hope to point out how my LDS beliefs and values coincide with my conservative ethos...and to do so with respect to those of my faith who have a different political ideology.

At the LDS Democrats Caucus they sang a popular LDS hymn, "Have I Done Any Good in the World Today."  This hymn truly embodies the faith of the LDS people in action.  We believe that we must follow the example of Jesus Christ and serve others.  Let me see if I can use this simple hymn to explain a foundational difference--it goes to the pronoun in the title of the hymn.  Have done any good in the world today.  My Christian faith requires me, at a personal level, to do good.  It requires me, at a personal level, to give of my wealth and substance to others willingly.  I am responsible for my actions and to encourage others to serve likewise through word and example.  I believe that blessings result from giving and serving, when it is done willingly.  Both the giver and the receiver are blessed.  My faith does not enable me or empower me to require others to do the same.

My fellow believers who are Democrats use their belief in the need to serve others to justify taxation and spending in support of social programs.  Let's take a look at the reality of taxation.  Unless I agree with a tax or a specific program funded by taxes, the government is essentially pointing a gun at my head and threatening physical harm or loss of personal freedom if I don't contribute.  If I don't pay my taxes to support an art program, or an environmental program, or any program with which I don't agree, I will face the threat of force from the government.  In essence these programs allow blocs of voters to force others to give up money that they have earned to help others or support their programs and causes.  The blessings and joy of personal responsibility to do good are removed.

Despite my best efforts I don't understand how this type of program fits within the model of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The gospel and its attendant blessings are based on agency, the ability for each person to choose for themselves to do good or not.  How is it right to put a gun to a person's head and require them to give up their possessions to support a program that I feel is worthwhile?  How is it right for a person to put a gun to my head and require me to give up my possessions and wealth to support a program that I don't support?  When we are forced to give up our wealth and possessions in support of good causes, whether we agree with them or not, we have lost our right to the blessings that may have flowed to us.  Unfortunately, we have found through experience that many recipients of government "charity" do not improve their lot in life, but instead become dependent.  Under this type of system both the giver and receiver lose freedom.

In rare cases the government may be the best entity to provide some basic social securities.  Such programs should be temporary and very limited in scope with the goal of getting the recipients back on their own feet as soon as possible.  Government should not exist to take away personal responsibility from the individual.  To do so contributes to the loss of self worth of the individual and the degradation of society as a whole.  Too many government welfare programs have metamorphosed into parasites feeding off the public purse for the sake of its own existence.  Too much of our income is taken away to be spent according to the wishes of others.

I do support taxation and spending by government for security, safety and infrastructure.  Society needs law enforcement, first responders, roads, bridges and utilities.  These are the foundational reasons for government to exist.

How then do we address the need of the many who require assistance?  How then do we help those who may not be able to help themselves?  We give willingly of ourselves.  We unite together in organizations, churches, and charities dedicated to serving specific needs or people.  We give our money, time and other resources to programs that we feel are deserving.  We combine our resources where we are able to meet the scope of the problem.  We focus on getting people on their own feet and getting problems solved.  We get people off of the dole and return them to a productive life, thereby reducing the number of people in need.  We solve problems rather than just manage them.

I believe the responsibility for doing good belongs to the individual.  You and I receive no blessings when we force another to give of their resources to fund a cause I believe in, even if I am in the majority.   We receive no blessings when we are forced to give to charitable causes.  The idea that we can use our vote to force others to support our religious based values tastes wrong and I can't make it taste right. 

- Jarad Van Wagoner


Monday, May 28, 2012

The Art of the Marathon

True artistic talent is worthy of envy.  The ability to create beauty whether it is with paint, words, voice, or musical instrument is inspiring.  It calls others to emulate and develop similar talents.  Beauty often inspires the creation of more beauty.  Not all art translates immediately into beauty.  At times art reminds us of pain and sorrows, sacrifice and loss.  The beauty becomes apparent as the emotions and memories are experienced.  Often beauty becomes apparent while art is being created. 

Kyoshi Nakamura, the famous Japanese marathon coach, said, “The marathon is an art; the marathoner is an artist.” 

Now, after only four marathons and a handful of other long distance races, I can’t claim to be a world-class marathon artist, but I have seen and experienced the art. 

An artist learns to be an expert in their medium.  A runner’s medium is the body and time.  The course, whether for a training run or a race, provides the canvas. 

An artist seeks and finds the best tools to create art.  Painters select their brushes; runners pick their shoes.  Musicians select their reeds and strings; runners pick their favorite form of lubrication to prevent chafing.

An artist practices before presenting their art to the public for naked evaluation.  The flutist plays musical arrangements repeatedly.  Different pieces are played to sharpen different skills, often dependent on the next performance on the docket.  The runner hits the trail or road repeatedly before the race, running different distances and different routes to develop the endurance and speed necessary for the race at hand.

The artist, having learned from practice which strokes work and how long to hold each note, develops a strategy for the performance or piece to be exhibited.  The runner, following miles of practice, develops and executes a strategy for the race; at least they execute it as best they can.

The artist often seeks inspiration as part of their creative process.  They seek meaning and purpose for their efforts.  The runner needs inspiration to push through the hard miles, to train on days when there are so many other things demanding attention.  Inspiration is required to push through the pain on race day, reaching out for the day’s goal whether it is simply finishing, achieving a new personal record, or placing.  A true artist is able to share their inspiration, passions, emotions, and message through their medium.

 At this point, it’s likely that many of you remain unconvinced that distance running is an art form.  How does running and sweating mile after mile compare to the paintings of Michelangelo, the poetry of Robert Frost, or the musical genius of Mozart?  To continue my argument I think a clear definition of art will be helpful.  According to, art is:

“The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”

Does running produce a work “to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power,” particularly in the non-participant, in the observer?  Absolutely!  The canvas of a marathon is an amazing panorama stretching from the bus ride to the start line and ending in the winners’ area.  Have you ever been to the starting area of a marathon?  The variety of runners astonishes and inspires.  As expected you see the skinny, athletic runners.  You also see the older runners, those in their 50s, 60s, 70s and a few in their 80s.  You see runners who are overweight, disabled.  You see mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, grandmothers, grandfathers, and loners.  Looking at them you begin to think about their backgrounds and their motivations.  The emotions begin to come forth as you consider what would motivate these people to do something so hard, so physically demanding. 

At the starting area you see strategies unfold.  Clothing was selected carefully and donned to include shoes.  Proper hydration is addressed.  Nutritional supplements are placed in pockets and belts for easy access.  Muscles are warmed and stretched.  In the faces you see worry, fear, and confidence—sometimes all three rolling across one face.

A marathon, as an art, perhaps compares more favorably in its construct to a symphony.  Like the music, the efforts of the runner ebb and flows building to a crescendo. 

What about the audience for the marathon?  Great art, after all, demands an audience.  Art has three basic types of audiences: 1) non-participants; 2) critics; and 3) other participants.  Many marathon courses have limited access for non-participants to view the runners.  Outside of a few courses along the way, most of the observers gather at the finish line to watch the culmination of the runner’s efforts.  So much of the beauty and inspiration, however, is found along the course, as runners take that initial step all the way through the last.  But who observes these breathtaking moments of glory along those parts of the trail where no one lines the trail to watch?  The other runners, fellow artists, watch and draw strength from the herculean efforts and athletic abilities of one another.  The runners experience the splendor and magnificence when, after pain and exhaustion has set in; each foot continues to follow in order. 

Do you wonder if a marathon is art?  Watch the faces of those lining the finish line as they watch the runners cross.  You will see looks of amazement as they watch the first and early runners come across in unbelievably short amounts of time.  They catch a glimpse of the devotion, ability and strength required to cover 26.2 miles in 2 hours and 17 minutes.  They see the look of grim determination as these elite runners having executed their training and race strategy well, finish.  Does this call forth emotion?  Is it beautiful to watch them stride across in good form, doing something that seems so unreasonable for a human to attempt?  Absolutely.  Watch the observers’ faces as each runner comes across.  You will see the observers begin to tear up as they see the pain and determination in the face, step and mere shuffle of each runner.  Watch their faces as the clock passes the five-hour mark or the six-hour mark, as the final runners, those that ran on sheer mental determination or for a personal cause, force themselves to cross the line.  Watch the anticipation and the turning heads as the approach of a runner with special circumstances is announced.

Think of the inspiration and the emotion invoked by observing and experiencing a marathon.  How many in the audience, observers and participants, are overcome by an impulse to take on a new challenge or to finish something difficult?  How many find a sense of sympathy or empathy for sufferings and trials of a friend, a family member or a mere acquaintance?  How many observers of a marathon find themselves riding a bus to a start line for their own marathon months or a year later?

As I hit mile 18 on my first marathon three years ago, my quads and calf muscles began to cramp and lock up.  To finish I had to alternate between limping and shuffling for the last 8 miles.  Looking down at my legs I knew this would be my first and last marathon.  If I could finish, I would have no reason to run another one.  I saw others in a similar plight as myself.  I could tell which of them were going to give up; which were going to sit down and wait to be picked up, feeling they had given it their best.  The same thought danced center stage in my mind.  As the next few miles passed by so slowly, I noticed something.  Many of those I thought would or should drop out, continued to press forward.  I’m not a small guy.  In fact, I probably should lose about 20-30 pounds to be more effective at running.  At around mile 21 I watched a guy pass me at a good pace, a runner who outweighed me by probably 40 pounds or more.  Others continued to find a way to keep moving.  I found that there was a group of us who took turns passing one another. 

The strength and perseverance of the other runners was the message passed through the medium of their motion.  It inspired me to continue.  Their art helped me to finish.  As I crossed the finish line I felt the tears well up in my eyes, both for what I had just accomplished and what so many others had done as well.  Walking into the winners area and feeling the medal placed around my neck, I knew I would run another marathon, even if it was only for the honor of seeing and experiencing the art first hand.

Since that first marathon I have completed a total of four along with other distance relays and races.  My own art, if it qualifies to be called that, is nothing special.  I doubt that many people feel an overwhelming sense of inspiration or emotion when they see me.  Well, the blood seeping through my white shirt on my last marathon, did call forth some emotional reactions from volunteers along the course.  The art of other runners continues to inspire me and pull me into races.  My father has run three marathons and a number of other races with me.  Often he runs with some type of injury.  He has finished each race.  His canvas, while perhaps not beautiful in the traditional sense, has inspired others to run marathons.

Is every marathoner an artist?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But I like the following quote by Mary Wittenberg:

"A marathoner is a marathoner regardless of time. Virtually everyone who tries the marathon has put in training over months, and it is that exercise and that commitment, physical and mental, that gives meaning to the medal, not just the day’s effort, be it fast or slow.  It's all in conquering the challenge."

- Jarad Van Wagoner

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Life in Siberia: Elder Wetzel—Trainer Extraordinaire, Part II

“You know living here is like being in Disneyland all the time.  It never seems quite real.”

Elder Jeremy Spencer spoke these words of wisdom while we were on splits together in Yugo Zapadni in Novosibirsk during the summer of 1995.  I stopped walking for a few moments to consider what he had just said.  It was kind of funny, but he was right.  After eight months in country, many aspects of life still seemed not quite real.  In many ways this was a blessing.  The cultural and linguistic separation between our investigators and me gave me the freedom to be bold in teaching and inviting.  This separation also allowed me to enjoy situations and experiences that may have otherwise scared me into inaction.  Life as a missionary in Russia, however, was fun…at least most days.

In fact Russia in the 1990s was all kinds of exciting, especially for a 19 year old from a small town in Utah.  After I returned home I shared many of my “adventure” stories with my wife.  At some point, once she had heard most of my fun stories two or three times, she asked me if I ever had any spiritual experiences.  Once again, I was pulled up short.  For whatever reason, I was hesitant to speak about my spiritual experiences.  I faithfully recorded them in my journal and thought of them, but for some reason I wasn’t ready to share to many of them. 

So, with this installment I hope to share a few more fun stories with a sprinkling of the serious.

Russian Cuisine vs. Missionary Cuisine
During my pre-mission years I was very careful about what foods I would eat or even consider trying.  In terms of meat I was always happy to eat any normal cuts of meat from normal farm raised animals: pork, beef, and poultry.  Occasionally I would venture to eat deer or elk, and even some moose my freshman year of college.  My vegetable world was very limited: corn, peas, beans, potatoes and tomato sauce.  I wasn’t very expansive with my fruits either: apples, oranges, bananas, grapes, and watermelon.

Suddenly, here I was in a foreign country with foreign food.  I was terrified of eating anything a Russian might fix me.  How could I verify that it didn’t have anything I didn’t like?  With Elder Wetzel I was lucky for the first little bit.  We didn’t eat with any members or investigators for a couple of weeks.  I never said anything to him, but I was happy to put the moment off for as long as possible.  Unfortunately, our own meals weren’t anything worthy of mentioning in a letter home.  In fact, I avoided writing about what we ate.  A common meal, at least a few times, was canned beef from China with lentils.  It looked amazingly disgusting, but often I was hungry enough to love it.  (I need to find a picture of our stove in that apartment.  We didn’t clean it for over a month.  It became sort of a badge of honor.)

We did manage to find a few decent places to eat out.  There was a hot dog place down on Krasniy Prospekt not far from the mission home.  It was great.  They take half a baguette and poke a hole in it.  Next they take the hot dog and dip it in your condiment of choice—ketchup or mayonnaise.  Finally they slide the dripping hot dog into the baguette and hand it to you.  Their ketchup didn’t taste a lot like what we had back home, but it wasn’t bad.  I could never get myself to eat a hot dog completely smothered in mayo.  Another favorite was a little manti shack not too far from the hot dog joint.  Manti is a dish from Central Asia.  It is spiced, greasy meat wrapped in a type of pasta.  You pick them up and eat them with your hands. 

Our branch had a Christmas party with a dinner about a week and a half after I arrived.  I was still in that dark phase of my mission—always tired, far from home, unable to understand anything anyone said.  Being away from home on Christmas was weighing heavily on me as I considered having to eat something foreign and scary that night.  My mood brightened considerably as a plate with a piece of fried steak and potatoes were set in front of me.  The taste was wonderful.

My first meal in a Russian’s home was scary.  Elder Wetzel was busy talking and I was too nervous to ask about the food.  The food looked very strange, some kind of white, wrinkly ball.  Several of them were put in a bowl and set in front of me.  It was terrifying.  I broke out in a cold sweat wondering what it could be with my imagination running wild.  My hand was shaking as I lifted the spoon with one of the balls on it toward my mouth.  I fought the urge to gag as I put in and began chewing.  I was relieved to realize it was spiced meat wrapped in a sort of pasta.  The food was Russian pelmini, one that would become one of my favorite dishes.

Within the first couple of months of my mission, I learned to love much of Russian cuisine.  The soups and potato dishes were some of my favorites.  Usually I tried to avoid most of the salads, especially the one that had mayo, beets and raw herring.  That one almost emptied my stomach more than once.  Another dish to avoid is kholodyets.  This is a frozen gelatin dish with scraps of meat and vegetables.  The gelatin is made as meat and bones are boiled down until the gelatin forms.  It doesn’t taste good and the texture is horrific.  I ate it once, after a member promised me that hers was better than everyone else’s.  Now, you may say I can’t judge the dish after just tasting it once.  But, I took the good sister at her word.  If hers was the best, I never wanted to try one that might not be as good.

The Hymn
As I’ve mentioned previously, my first two or three weeks in Russia were not entirely enjoyable.  Staying busy and tired gave me little time to think about myself.  Elder Wetzel did a great job at keeping us working all day, every day.  Occasionally I would start to feel sorry for myself in the mornings during our study time. 

One day I was sitting in my chair as the melancholy feeling began to come on me.  It must have been around seven in the morning and it was still pitch black outside.  Rather than reading my scriptures or studying the language, I felt like reading my letters from home again which I knew would only make me feel homesick. 

Suddenly Elder Wetzel began to sing a hymn from his corner of the room.  I’m not sure if many of you have heard him sing before, but it was amazingly beautiful.  There I was worrying about myself, feeling alone in the midst of an internal storm.  At that moment he chose to sing Be Still My Soul, a hymn that I didn’t remember hearing before that day.  I sat there quietly listening to the words as tears began to build and slide down my cheeks.  I knew that was a changing point in my mission, a point where the Lord reached out to me to let me know that He loved me and was aware of my struggle.  Being a missionary in Siberia didn’t suddenly become easy, but I had a reference point that allowed me to get my bearings whenever I felt overwhelmed.  That morning I don’t remember saying anything to Elder Wetzel about the hymn, but at our next district meeting I asked if we could sing that same hymn.  I had to ask the title of the hymn.  It’s been one of my favorites ever since.

Doc Martins and Father Winter
Siberia is cold.  That may seem obvious, but it’s difficult to appropriately express the magnitude of the cold.  We experienced it first hand every day.  About eighty percent of our travel was by foot exposing us directly to Father Winter.  The buildings funneled the wind nicely down each street.  I became a huge fan of my muskrat shapka, with the earflaps pulled low and tied under my shin.  Winter boots with wool socks also helped make life bearable.

One day while we were out and about, Elder Wetzel tripped over a piece of metal, tearing a large hole between the leather and sole of his boot.  Being a thrifty individual, Elder Wetzel took his boots to a local repair shop rather than buying a new pair.  The gentleman told us it would be two or three days before his boots would be ready to go.  That left him with only his pair of Doc Martins to wear.

As Cliff from Cheers would say, “Here’s an interesting fact for ya’, at temperatures below -20 degrees Celsius the sole of your standard Doc Martin will freeze hard like glass and you’ll slide all over the place.”  For two or three days, Elder Wetzel slid everywhere and fell down repeatedly.  He would scramble to get up on a sidewalk only to slide off one side.  The lack of professional construction and uneven surfaces made his situation extra challenging.  At first, being as sensitive as I am, I found it very amusing.  But after three days of pulling him everywhere, literally, I was ready for his boots to be repaired.

I can’t make too much fun of Kevyn for sliding all over the place in his frozen Docs.  I prided myself on slipping and falling on the ice only very rarely.  One day, however, we were walking back to our apartment after stopping by a small gastronom, or type of grocery store.  We bought a few supplies including a bag of twenty eggs that I carried in my hand as we walked to the apartment.  Coming down a steep hill not too far from our apartment, I slipped onto my back.  As I was falling I did my best to hold the bag of eggs up off the ground.  Unfortunately my elbow hit the ground throwing my hand forward and into the bag of eggs.  In one fell swoop, I managed to break all twenty eggs at once…with one hand and an assist from the ground.

Weekly Service
Missionaries are expected to look for service opportunities, donating a couple of hours each week.  In Russia the default option was to teach English at a school, a library, a museum, or anywhere they would have you.  Teaching English was great fun and a wonderful way to meet new people.  In Novosibirsk we met a great group of young people who were hari krishnas.  It wasn’t my favorite form of service though.  I preferred looking for ways to help people in real need.

One week Elder Wetzel and I showed up at the school where we normally taught the students English.  The class had something else going on that day, so we were left to look for something else.  We decided to head over to a member’s apartment while we tried to think of something else to do.  They weren’t home so we headed back outside, still unsure what to do.

As we stepped onto the courtyard in front of the apartment building, we noticed a car stuck in the deep snow that had fallen recently.  Cars usually didn’t pull up to the front of apartment buildings in Novosibirsk back then.  Parking spaces most often were made of hodge-podge garages separated from the buildings.  Only drivers going to pick someone up or drop someone or something off would drive to the front of the buildings.  None of the snow had been cleared by the dvorniki, those in charge of keeping the courtyards clear.  We walked over to offer our assistance to the driver.  He was at one end of the lane in front of the long building and needed to make it all the way across.  It took us awhile but we eventually got him out and on his way.

Brushing the snow off my coat and pants, I turned around only to see another car at the beginning of the same lane already stuck.  The driver looked at us expectantly.  Over the course of the next hour or so we helped four or five cars get unstuck.  The physical labor, without the need to speak hardly any Russian, was so enjoyable that I was happy to stay as long as we could.  Finally our supply of bold drivers dwindled to nothing.  We headed back to our apartment, our service for the week accomplished.

During the course of my mission I had a few other memorable service activities.  Helping Brother Petr Nicholaichev and his family move from the ninth story of one apartment to the ninth story of another apartment was a highlight.  The lack of a working elevator made it extra memorable.  We moved a piano down nine stories and up nine stories, all on the stairs.  In Yekaterinburg, Elder Petrov and I helped repair books at a local library.  As a lover of books it was rewarding to tape, glue and sew bindings back together.

New Year’s Eve and Taxi Cabs
Serving a mission in a foreign country provides one a great opportunity to experience a new culture.  You are forced to spend time with people from different backgrounds, a different kind of language, different foods, and strange behaviors…and that’s just referring to missionary companions.  Getting to know the Russians and my companions was fun and challenging.  Elder Wetzel and I were alike in a lot of ways, both from small towns.  Within a couple of weeks of my arrival we were able to celebrate the New Year’s Russian style. 

We spent the entire day of New Year’s Eve trying to find someone to teach.  Most of the people we spoke with on the street or tracted into were busy preparing for the evening’s celebration.  As evening rolled around we left for a New Year’s Eve party with some of the members.  The trip to the party was an adventure.  Running behind because Elder Wetzel kept us working until the last minute, we had to grab a taxi to get to the party in time.

Grabbing a taxi in Russia is a special experience.  You stand next the side of the road and put your hand out.  Anyone driving a car can pull over to see if you’re heading in the same direction and to negotiate a fare.  Personally, I always hoped a Volga would pull over, but often we were stuck with a Lada.  Often we had competitions to see who get a free taxi ride.  The key was engaging the taxi drive in conversation was stimulating enough that they offered you a ride for free.  Needless to say, the likelihood of success increases the longer one is in the country.  Many taxi cab drivers would go out of their way to teach us new vocabulary, much of it unfortunately inappropriate.

As Elder Wetzel and I began looking for a car, it soon became clear that our choices were going to be limited since everyone was already partying.  He held his hand out for the few cars that drove past before we finally had one pull over.  With his friend in the front seat, the drive waived us into the back.  My father is a police officer.  Several times growing up I rode along with him and more than once watched drunk drivers pulled over and arrested.  It quickly became obvious that our driver was more than slightly inebriated.  The roads were wide open with very little traffic, which probably helped keep us alive, but at the same time allowed him to drive all over the place.  Our entire experience was made more exciting by the ice and snow on the road.  I was worried, on a serious level, that we may not survive the ride unscathed.  (Little did I know that a few months later I would be even more scared during a taxi ride.)

Anyway, my frantic prayers were answered and we arrived safely to our destination.  The evening was relaxing and exhausting at the same time.  It was wonderful to spend time with several families from our branch, but as always the foreign language frazzled my brain.  Luckily I was left alone most of the evening to speak with the children.  The young children loved taking the new missionaries under their wings to help them with the language.  Many times I sat in church meetings while the children whispered new words into my ear and made me repeat them back.  In between all the courses of food for the evening, I was able to keep all the children entertained with my poor pronunciation.  With all the people coming and going, it was also easy for me to avoid having to eat anything that looked dangerous.

At midnight we gathered on the balcony and around the windows to watch a number of fireworks in different areas of the city.  By that point I was quite tired and ready to go to our apartment for bed.  I wasn’t thrilled to find out that all of us, in keeping with tradition, were expected to go for a walk around the neighborhood.  We walked with the members to a large park area where a very large slide had been constructed out of ice.  I managed a few turns down the slide without ripping a hole in my slacks.  On our way back to the member’s apartment building we walked on a trail through some woods.  Kevyn started to get very excited, telling me how he loved to run through the woods back home.  Before I knew it we were running through the woods in the snow and ice on a New Year’s night in Siberia.  I thought it was a little crazy and dangerous, but after our taxicab ride it didn’t seem too bad.

At the end of the festivities the members walked each set of missionaries back to their apartments.

Serving with Elder Wetzel was a privilege.  He kept me so busy that I ran out of time to feel sorry for myself.  After only three months in the country he was able to show me what a person with faith and confidence in the Lord can do.  While we were together that first time, (yes, I was blessed to serve with Elder Wetzel twice), we helped one person get baptized.  Brother Alexander, the wonderful man who sold things for the mafia on the black market.  A few other people we taught in that area eventually entered the waters of baptism as well.  Those months were a great start to my mission.  I don’t want to brag, but Elder Wetzel was very successful as a new trainer.  He managed to keep me alive and in Russia.

- Jarad Van Wagoner

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Why I Ragnar

It’s two in the morning.  I’m excited for my 3.9-mile run that’s going to start in about ten minutes.  No, I’m serious.  I really am excited.  After my 4.9 mile run in the 100 plus degree heat of the day six hours before, the cool of the night and the downhill course makes this run very appealing.  This run beats the pants off my middle of night run at Wasatch Back the summer previous.  It was so cold then that I woke up with frost on my sleeping bag.  After nearly freezing waiting for our runner from the other van to come in, I had a four-mile run uphill.  It was not my most pleasant run.

Here she comes—my teammate.  She slaps the Ragnar wristband onto my arm and I take off.  With the cooler temperature and downhill my pace is about two minutes faster than it was during my first run.  Within a mile I’ve found a good pace.  The problem, at least for the girl in front of me, is that it is the same as her pace.  For about three miles in the dark, with my headlamp bouncing on the ground at her feet, she has to listen to me huff and puff in cadence with my gait. 

The pace feels great.  I’m eating up ground and my body loves it.  As I come into the last mile I realize I can finish a little faster than my non-voluntary running partner.  At first I hesitate as I think about the grueling run earlier in the heat of the day.  That run took a lot out of me.  I’m pushing it on this run and in about six more hours I’ll be hitting my last run of 11 miles from Sea World around the harbor near downtown San Diego.  If I step up the pace now, it’s likely I’ll be in pain and slower on the next run.  I can’t hold back though, despite my own mental warning.  The pace, the temperature and the course combine to make me want to go faster.  Sliding around the girl, I move ahead to finish the leg a little bit faster. 

So Cal 2012.  From Huntington Beach to Coronado Beach.  My fourth Ragnar and second time running this one.  What is a Ragnar and why do so many people flock to them?  Why do I flock to them?  (Can one person flock?)  A Ragnar is a long-distance relay race, usually between 180 and 205 miles.  Sane people run them in teams of twelve, split between two vans.  (Insane people run them with six people.)  Each person runs three legs varying between two and eleven miles in distance, completing a total of around twelve to twenty total miles.  The race begins sometime on Friday, with your start time being determined by the average pace of your team.  Slower teams start earlier in the morning to give them more time to finish it by Saturday afternoon.  The first van runs six legs, and then turns the baton (wristband) over to the second van and they run six legs.

If you’ve ever been on a Ragnar course, a van exchange, or finish line, you know that people from all walks of life participate.  Young people, old people, middle-aged people, teenagers, athletes, wannabe athletes, no-where-near athletes.  Teams are made up of families, friends, co-workers, classmates, and strangers.  For instance, our So Cal Team—Team Family Therapy consisted of my father (Reed)-fifty something, his friend (Jeff)-forty something, my wife (Rochelle)-thirty something, her sister (Amanda)-late twenties, aforementioned sister’s boyfriend/presumptive fiancĂ© (Matt)-early thirties, my wife’s single/needs-to-get-married-soon brother (Brett)-mid twenties, my sister and her husband (Nathan and Heather)-thirty something and late-twenties, one of my friends/former co-workers (Brett)-early thirties, my sister’s husband’s sister (Kami)-thirty-something, and a friend from church (Michael)-late-twenties.   The wife (Nicole) of my friend from church also joined us and stepped up as a driver and team-mom for one the vans.

What would cause such a diverse group of people to come together to spend 34 or more hours together in a van with no more than baby wipes to use for shower purposes?  What makes running in the heat of the day and the middle of the night, followed by one more run seem appealing?  Before I step up and offer my own reasons for running, let me first speculate as to why some of the others on our team run.  I meant to ask them during this last race, but I forgot.  So, I imagine if I interviewed them this is what they would say.

Brett (friend/former co-worker)
-       United States Air Force Academy graduate, played football for USAFA and played arena football.

“I run to continue to convince those around me of my outstanding athletic prowess and abilities.  Also, because Jarad is one of my mentors and I’m willing to pay for the chance to spend time learning from him, even if it means running through the night.  I don’t worry about how bad the van can smell from all of our stinking bodies, because I tend to be the stinkiest.  Knowing I have a Ragnar coming up gives me a reason to keep running.  Finally, I run because I think people like watching me run.”

Rochelle (wife/best friend)
-       Mother of five with one in the oven.  Psychology major so she should know better than running such a race.

“My husband tricked me into running with him on occasion previous to my first Ragnar in Las Vegas last fall.  Somehow my husband and father-in-law convinced me the Ragnar would be fun.  Giving into peer pressure I decided to give it a try even though it didn’t sound very fun.  Surprisingly I loved the experience despite all the pressure and unease involved with the training.  Honestly, I think there’s a virus that you pick up from other Ragnar runners for which there is no good cure.”

Reed (father/mentor)
-       Survivor of four daughters, police officer, Navy Reservist.

“I enjoy getting people to do things that a person with normal cognitive abilities would consider painful and undesirable.  My goal is to get them to do it and then to decide it’s fun.  In the past few years I’ve managed to get a handful of people to run marathons, half marathons, and Ragnars.  I’ll keep running as long as I can convince more people to do it with me.  While helping incarcerate bad guys is fun, this is even more fun.  Plus, as the mail advertisements from AARP remind me, I’m getting a bit on the older side and this gives me an excuse to stay in shape.”

Amanda (Rochelle’s sister)
-       Nutritional expert and stickler for proper protocol and rules.

“I run races because we have been commanded to be healthy.”

Matt (Amanda’s boyfriend/potential fiancĂ©)
-       Public policy expert and explorer of all angles of even the most minute of decisions.

“WTH.  And I don’t even swear.  Who runs in the middle of the night after having run earlier in the day with no sleep in between?  All of this after an all day trip from Salt Lake to Costa Mesa with the offer to share a bed with Reed the night before the race.  I did this for Amanda…well for me, because I love spending as much time as possible with Amanda.”

Brett (Rochelle’s brother)
-       Outdoorsman, ladies man without the lady, sod expert.

“Don’t tell my sister Amanda, but I ran this for the opportunity to check out runner chicks.  By those criteria alone, the entire experience was worth it.  Turns out I can actually run fast for up to seven miles, maybe even further.  Also, my therapist suggested that I needed some people time; time with people who don’t just talk about sod and wild animals.  This was a great opportunity to discuss different topics.  Did you know that people in So Cal speak English?  Also, they make some great running outfits for females.  Oh, and to that nice young lady I flashed in the port-a-potty accidentally, I apologize.  (Look me up on FB.)”

Michael (My friend from church)
-       Physical therapy student

“Have you ever been cornered by a sad desperate person who turns to you for help?  Well that’s what happened to me when Jarad asked me to run with them.  Before I knew what was happening I had said yes.  Plus, the challenge sounded fun and exciting.  Except for the drive back, it was a great experience.”

Heather (my sister)
-       Mother of three with one more on the way.  Yeah, she ran six months pregnant.

“I run to get away from it all (mainly my wonderful family).  My kids tell me I’m a happier person when I’m running, so really, I do this for them.  Sleeping in a van with bad BO is actually quite relaxing compared to chasing children and keeping my husband in line.”

Nate – AKA “Shin Splint” (Heather’s husband)
-       Serious computer nerd and recovering athlete.

“I tried to run my first Ragnar because my wife told me were taking a weekend trip to Las Vegas.  I was like, oh yeah!  Party time!  We loaded into a van and drove to Lake Mead.  At some point they pushed me out and drove away yelling at me to run as fast as possible until I saw them again.  I ran this Ragnar to reclaim my honor after the terrible injuries I incurred during the Las Vegas race.  After losing over 30 pounds, I decided to make this Ragnar mine.  No way was I going to trip and roll over sagebrush along a lone stretch of road in the desert and then sprain my ankle stepping off the curb.  No way was I going to have someone else run my last leg for me.  Plus, did you know that on a Ragnar you have a captive audience for about 36 hours.  There are some amazing facts about programming that the rest of the world needs to know.”

Jeff (Reed’s friend)
-       Inventory expert and poor chooser of friends.

“After Reed convinced me to run a marathon with him last year, my doctor, who helped me recover from the marathon, told me I needed to find new friends.  Since I have trouble developing new relationships, I said yes when Reed asked me to run the Ragnar.  It was actually quite fun.  Besides, hanging with the Van Wagoners makes me feel a bit more normal in my own life.  I’ll probably run the next one if asked.”

Kami (My sister’s husband’s sister)
-       Mother of three and sister to some crazy brothers.

“I ran this because the Van Wagoners were desperate to get one more runner and I knew the expectations for speed would be low.  No, I’m kidding.  Who doesn’t want to spend three days with the Van Wagoners non-stop? ”

Why do I run Ragnars?  Mainly because I love to laugh and every Ragnar I’ve ran, even the one with strangers, gave me plenty of cause to laugh.  I love the challenge, the motivation to stay in shape.  I love the shared adventure of doing something hard and crazy.  It’s fun knowing that your teammates are counting on you to run each of your legs.  I love being around other teams who are excited to be doing the same thing.  I love the novelty of running in new places and in the middle of the night.   I love teasing people when they’re sore and sleep deprived.  I love throwing a sleeping bag on a patch of grass at a golf course in hopes of sleeping for a couple of hours before my next run.  I love all the teams that stop and cheer for and support all the runners on their final leg when most of us are physically and emotionally exhausted.    

The Ragnar creates memories that will not soon be forgotten.  For instance, sharing a bed with Brett (Rochelle’s brother).  Who wouldn’t line up for that?  Being there when the same Brett forgot to lock the door on his port-a-potty giving a random girl her Ragnar highlight when she opened the door too soon.  Eating Krispy Kreme Donuts right before we started our first leg.  Taking a dip in a lake after our first leg.  An amazing meal at IHOP.   Their food can taste so good after a long run.  Watching Heather push through an excruciatingly painful run in the heat of the day.  Once the six month pregnant woman completed a very tough leg it was pointless to complain about any of my runs.  Watching Brett (the other one) ask a group of guys sitting around a fire if he can sit down for a second as he drops his pants in front of all of them. 

Check out this video about why to run the Ragnar.

- Jarad Van Wagoner