The Search for Significance

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

If you follow other running websites or blogs you may have heard about Mike Rossi. He's a 47 year old father of two from Rydal, Pennsylvania. He is being accused of cheating in order to quality for the Boston Marathon. His integrity came into question after he ran the Boston Marathon this past spring with a time of 4:01. He qualified for Boston by running a 3:11:45 at the Lehigh Valley marathon. Even with the time difference between Boston and his qualifying marathon no one thought twice about Rossi....until he became an overnight headline.

For the Boston marathon he took his kids out of school for five days and made the event a family trip. He then got a letter from the School Principal saying that a family vacation is not an excused absence for his kids.  Rossi responded in a Facebook post that during the trip his kids "learned as much in the five days we were in Boston as they would in an entire year in school," and that "our children had a once-in-a-lifetime experience, one that can't be duplicated in a classroom or read in a book." His response went viral.

With fame came scrutiny. People then started to look at his race history and it didn't add up. Rossi qualified for Boston by running the Lehigh Valley marathon in 3:11:45. However, that finish time is incredibly fast (7:18/mile) compared to any of his previous performances. He also finished Boston 49 minutes slower than his qualifying marathon. I'm not going to spend my time going into the allegations but the evidence is overwhelming. You can read about the details and make up your own mind. The short version of the allegations is that he jumped off the Lehigh Valley marathon course, hopped in his car, drove several miles down course and rejoined at a later point. The Lehigh Valley marathon is often done as part of a relay so it is common for people to walk off the course after a segment. The chances he was able to run a 3:11 marathon, experts say, is about 1 in 175,000,000. In fact, the folks at are so confident he cheated that they will pay Mike Rossi $100,000 if he can run another 3:11 marathon within the next 12 months. Rossi won't share any photos, GPS data, or training runs to try and prove he actually ran the race. He has denied the allegations but is not willing to try and prove them false.

The point of this post is not to continue the witch hunt or to heap more blame on the man. The evidence seems pretty clear to me. And the running community is pretty pissed about it. I think the bigger question is "Why would someone do that?" What would motivate someone, who is not competing for anything other than a finisher's medal, to cheat on a marathon in order to quality for Boston?

Rossi crossing the finish line at the Boston Marathon
What would someone gain from doing this? Cheating during a race is equivalent to stealing (commandment #8)  And while stealing is the action, the root of the issue is one of significance and value. All of our actions are based on a motivation that comes from our heart. Most cheaters in races are not hoping to win first place, they are hoping to be significant and to be valued by others. Boston is prestigious. Boston is difficult to qualify for. The heart issue behind a theft like this is wanting to be viewed as significant by others. Maybe it's wanting your kids to look up to you, wanting Facebook friends to think you're the best thing since sliced bread, and maybe it's as simple as just wanting to like yourself. It's easy to see how someone could think that qualifying and running Boston would bring them significance and value. The sin of stealing promises to give a heart that longs to be something special what it wants. Unfortunately that sin, like all sin, deceives. Instead of significance and acclaim it brings shame and infamy; the exact opposite of what the heart wanted.

"Our need for worth is so powerful that whatever we base our identity and value on we essentially 'deify.' We will look to it with all the passion and intensity of worship and devotion, even if we think ourselves as highly irreligious."  ~Tim Keller

Mostly this is just a sad story. I'm sad for him. I'm sad for his kids and for his family. I'm also sad because my heart is so similar. Before we think too highly of ourselves and turn our noses up at Mike Rossi we should remember that we are really not that different. Though we may have our actions (stealing) mostly under control, our hearts are the same. It's not that we just long to do something special and significant, we long to be something special and significant. And we'll look just about anywhere and do just about anything to fulfill that need. We I often long for significance and value in things that will not deliver. If we look for our value and significance in the momentary glory of physical fitness, health, and earthly accomplishment we will be disappointed. But if we look to Christ and remember that we are valuable to HIM and we are significant to HIM, then we will have real lasting joy and contentment.

So here is your reminder for your fitness journey: you are valued and significant because of Jesus not because of what others think of you, how fast you can run, or what medals you can accumulate.

In Christ you are:
Beloved - Jeremiah 31:3
Delighted In - Zephaniah 3:17
Free - Galatians 5:1
New - 2 Corinthians 5:17
Secure - John 10:27-30
Whole - Colossians 2:10

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