Day 5: Dr. Tom Adams (The Master)


(Note: Dr. Tom Adams was a professor of exercise science, author, and a finisher in dozens of Ironman triathlons. He mentored me through one of the most disciplined times of my life, and is one of my favorite people on the planet.)

Dear Tom:

The stories I’d heard were legendary. I was intimidated even walking in your office. It felt a little like holy ground. But I asked the question, and without so much as the bat of an eye, you said yes. Now, because of you, I believe all things are possible.

Not many people would’ve understood the story I told you, but you related perfectly well. Thirty days earlier at the conclusion of a year’s training and 80 pounds of weight loss, I literally wept at the finish line of the Memphis St. Jude Marathon. But they weren’t tears of joy. I’d missed my goal time by 20 minutes, and instead of victory there was a sadness I’d never known.

People said, “…oh, but it’s a huge accomplishment and look how far you’ve come, you should be so happy. You ran 26 miles and finished, blah, blah, blah.”

Please. If I’d wanted to celebrate the past I’d have thrown myself a party. Missing that 4:30 goal time was devastating. As I recounted the story in your office, you just smiled and nodded. You got it just like I knew you would. And I knew that day I’d found a kindred spirit with the same twisted philosophies about pushing yourself, and a shared understanding about the benefits of reaching for the limits in the body, mind and spirit.

You don’t know how much you can do until you’ve tried something that’s more.

That’s true enough.

When I asked if you’d train me for the Country Music Marathon in Nashville four months down the road you said, “…sure, I’ll train you, but we’ve got some work to do.” Well, that was an understatement. Thanks for not telling me what you were really about to do to me. Ha!

With three kids and a full-time job, those 53-mile weeks (running only four days a week each day beginning at 4:30) were punishing. I remember as my head would hit the pillow each night, I’d say to myself, “Did I really do all that?” Complete depletion. That’s how I remember the whole experience. Complete depletion – what a magnificent and glorious feeling. Few people really know it.

But you kept repeating it, and I never forgot it. Still haven’t. “The body will adjust,” you’d say. Well, you knew what you were talking about. That’s why I came to you in the first place.


Dr. Tom Adams and his wonderful wife Harriette at the celebration of their recent retirement from Arkansas State University.

It was such an honor to have you in my corner and to know how much you wanted my success, Tom. I think you wanted it almost as much as I did. And you know what else? I went through with it all, because over time I realized I wanted to make you proud. I guess at different times in life, somewhere deep down, we all need to make someone proud. Thank you so much for caring enough that it made me feel that way toward you.

After training every mile you required, lifting every weight you demanded, and abstaining from every calorie you warned against, there had to be a lesson there somewhere that I completely crashed and burned in the Nashville marathon, and I know you felt so badly for me. It was all the sweeter six months later when I hit the goal we’d worked toward in the Dallas White Rock Marathon.

Tom, I want you to know I recall that period as one of the most formative times I’ve enjoyed in 50 years. Anything that extreme that’s shared with such a kindred spirit is the stuff from which real memories are made. They say memories are nothing more than a series of selective pictures we file away in the mind’s eye. When I reach into that file and pull a picture reminding me of the miles we knocked out together, the conversations we enjoyed, and the friendship we developed, it reminds me of a time when I learned I can do anything I set my mind toward.

You always have been, and always will be The Master.



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