father was a high school junior, he locked into a dream: he
would become the worldís champion endurance bicyclist.
An audacious aspiration for a frail sixteen-year-old with
no previous athletic achievements to his credit, we might say.
Not as it turned out.
It was 1927, and, establishing endurance records had become
a national craze in the optimistic mania of this
pre-depression period. A friend of dadís, Owen Evens, had set
one in golf--playing seventeen hours without a break. A
Frenchman held the record for nonstop cycling, at twenty-four
hours. The Amateur Bicycle League was urging American cyclists
to try to top it.
Dad had taken a job as a bicycle messenger that summer. He
found that his stamina held up well, even after hours of
peddling furiously around Washington streets in sweltering
heat. One day he made a simple connection between his
experience as a messenger and winning the endurance title. ďI
can do it,Ē he thought. ďI can beat that Frenchmanís record.Ē
On August 17, at 9:00 p.m., he officially began his quest
for the title, peddling a circular path around the polo
grounds of Washingtonís Hainís Point. Officials from the
Amateur Bicycle League were on hand to monitor his progress,
and members of the local press as well.
When he finally eased his brakeless, gearless bike to a
stop and stumbled off, it was 9:27 p.m.--August 18. He had
stayed aloft for twenty-four hours and twenty-seven minutes,
peddling 250 miles and setting a new world record.
Local papers featured many articles about the
event--announcing dadís intention to try for the title,
detailing his marathon ride while in progress, then reporting
his victory and follow-up news. The titles of these now barely
readable, yellowed clippings, pasted in an ancient, ragged
scrapbook, still give me chills to read:
Youth Will Try for Endurance Record on Bike
Smith Sure He Will Break Bicycle Record
Milton Smith, Washington Marathon Cycler,
Marathon Cyclist Going Strong after 12 Hours
Bike Rider Nearing Record in Grind at Potomac
Marathon Cyclist Sets New Endurance Record
Record Is Claimed by Capital Bikeman
District Boy Sets Bike Record: Milton Smith
Rides 250.4 Miles
in 24-1/4 Hours
Courage Helped Smith in Bike Grind
Smith, D.C. Bikeman, after World Mark
Marathon Cyclist Aided by Friend in Nonstop
United Press also picked up the story in
a feature carried by many papers around the country. The
result of all this media attention was that dad became an
overnight celebrity in Washington. A shy, barely-known Eastern
High School student gained a cherished new identity. Achieving
his goal boosted his confidence immensely, and gave him the
heart to think big as he moved into college and adulthood. The
benefits to every area of his life were enormous.
Dreams that Work
Two things impress me about my dadís successful pursuit of
the endurance title. For one, Iím moved by the fact that he
took his dream to win it so seriously. He wanted this prize so
badly that he found the resolve and means to attain it.
When we look honestly at why some dreams of ours succeed
while others fail, we usually find that only the strong ones
survive. Itís fundamental to our nature as humans to have
aspirations, and over a lifetime we experience many of them.
Itís just as basic to our nature to lose heart; it takes
practically nothing to discourage us and convince us that a
dream is impossible for us. Yet when a dream is substantial
enough, and our passion to achieve it strong enough, we find a
way to beat the challenges and persevere till we succeed. It
also seems that serendipities occur: life rises up to meet us
and help us accomplish what we desire.
The older I grow, the more impressed I am with what a gift
it is to experience a dream at this level. When we see a
real-life example of someone who benefited from a dream this
powerful, it is always inspiring.
Of course, by todayís standards my fatherís accomplishment,
while impressive, doesnít seem that earth-shattering. Cyclists
have established and broken countless endurance records in the
seventy-six years since dad made his marathon sojourn around
that Washington park. What all this history suggests is that
there were undoubtedly many--probably thousands--in the United
States at that time who could have achieved this same feat.
Yet among those who could have done so with a reasonable try,
only my father made the effort at that time. The fact that he
tried made the difference.
This same dynamic operates far more frequently in our
experience than most of us realize. We often hold back from
pursuing a dream because we fear ďthe competition.Ē We assume
so many others are vying for the same benefit that we have no
hope of attaining it. Yet when we begin moving earnestly
toward a goal, weíre sometimes surprised: we find that far
fewer have found the heart to try for it than we supposed. The
mere fact that we have made ourselves available for the
opportunity puts us in a position of strength, and makes it
possible for us to succeed.
Our personal dreams so frequently are within our
reach. My dadís experience is one small example of how passion
and availability can tip the scales.
A Lifetime Need
It is hard to exaggerate the importance of personal dreams.
The benefits they bring to our well-being, health,
productivity, social life and personal growth defy
description. If we look carefully at our life, we always find
that the times when we have felt most alive, and most hopeful
about our future, have been when weíve embraced a dream and
pursued it eagerly. These also have been the times when our
life has been most fruitful and beneficial to others.
We need dreams like the air we breathe. We need them in
career, education, relationships, avocations, lifestyle,
personal development and growth. And we need fresh dreams
throughout our life; when one is realized, itís important to
replace it with another, that we remain forever in a growth
mode. Major dreams may be realized even at unlikely points in
life. Architect Henry J. Magaziner published his first book at
89, The Golden Age of Ironwork--a coffee-table volume
that received critical acclaim. Magaziner did not begin this
project until he was 81.
Yet for a dream to be effective--to the point that it
propels us to succeed--we must own it so fully that it becomes
part of the fabric of our personality. This will not happen
unless we are convinced that our dreams are both important and
Davidís Exuberance for Life
We find inspiration to both of these ends in the Old
Testament story of David and Goliath. Iíve often drawn on this
incident in Nehemiah Notes, for it has much to teach us
about realizing our potential. Yet recently I noticed a
critical detail about Davidís decision to fight Goliath that
had never impressed me before.
When Goliath taunted the army of Israel, demanding that a
warrior come forth and fight him, Saul offered a reward to any
citizen able to meet the challenge. David heard soldiers
talking about this prize while he was visiting his brothers on
the front line: ďDo you see how this man keeps coming out? He
comes out to defy Israel. The king will give great wealth to
the man who kills him. He will also give him his daughter in
marriage and will exempt his fatherís family from taxes in
IsraelĒ (1 Sam 17:25).
After hearing this tantalizing description of Saulís
reward, David asked two further groups of soldiers for
information about it, ďand the men answered him as beforeĒ (v.
Although Iíve read this portion of Scripture many times, I
had never given much thought to the fact that Saul offered a
reward for defeating Goliath, nor to the possibility that it
influenced David. It dawned on me that it not only played a
role in Davidís decision, but a substantial one. This is clear
from the level of interest that David showed in confirming
details about it.
The reward promised several benefits to the victorious
warrior: a marriage partner, financial security, political
freedom, and--by implication--the chance to exercise
leadership and political influence. David obviously had dreams
in some or all of these areas, and saw fighting Goliath as an
opportunity to take a quantum leap toward realizing them. And
his motivation at these points was undoubtedly stronger than
that of most of his contemporaries, for he alone mustered the
courage to confront the giant.
David, to be sure, also possessed strong faith in God, and
ached to see Godís glory defended against Goliathís slander (1
Sam 17:26, 36, 45-47). He clearly felt strong compassion for
his countrymen too, and longed to help free them from the
Philistinesí oppression. These were significant dreams in
Yet we should not downplay the role that Davidís hope for
certain personal benefits played in deciding to accept
Goliathís wager. What this story reveals most importantly is
that David had a passion for life. It was reflected in
several major longings: to improve his own life in certain
ways, to help his countrymen, and to uphold Godís glory.
All of these desires were important in gaining the
motivation to fight Goliath. And it was precisely because they
were so strong that he found the strength of heart to do
something so supremely challenging.
Davidís example is so refreshing, for it encourages us both
to take our personal dreams seriously and to allow them to
become powerful inspirations. Many Christians are
uncomfortable giving much attention to their
dreams--especially to those for personal benefit--out of fear
that their aspirations might interfere with their devotion to
Christ. Our dreams can become idols, unquestionably. Yet C.S.
Lewis put this problem in right perspective when he noted that
we fail not by loving things too much, but by not loving God
enough. If Iím attaching too much importance to an otherwise
healthy dream, the answer isnít to try to tone down my
enthusiasm for it, but to strive to increase my affection for
Itís here that Davidís role model is so helpful. Because
his devotion to God was so strong, his personal aspirations
influenced him in a healthy manner. His example inspires us
both to strengthen our relationship with Christ and to
embrace substantial dreams for our life. Davidís experience
also suggests that within the context of a strong relationship
with God, weíll be inclined to live out our dreams in ways
that most help others and enhance Christís mission.
By the same token, we see in Davidís countrymen the problem
that occurs when personal dreams are not strong enough. Itís
fair to say that if some of them had possessed a stronger
passion for life, they, like David, would have been clamoring
to fight the giant.
The Availability Factor
Which brings us to another lesson that Davidís experience
with Goliath teaches. Itís the fact that others may not
be clamoring to accomplish the same dreams we want to pursue.
The lack of competition David faced in fighting Goliath was
beyond any belief. His conviction that he could tackle the
giant sprang from recalling his successes as a shepherd
fighting wild animals with a sling (1 Sam 17:34-37). Since
Godís glory was now at stake, David assumed that God would
give him victory through this skill already so evident in his
life. Yet thousands of Israelite soldiers had also been
shepherds or hunters and had confronted ravenous animals just
as David did. They had the identical basis for concluding that
they could successfully battle Goliath. But none of them made
this connection. Not one. David alone was able to see
the situation with the eyes of faith.
Why did David see a remarkable opportunity for victory,
while others didnít? His passion for life explains it, Iím
sure. It was so strong that he was motivated to make
connections between his past experience and the present
challenge that others didnít bother to try to make.
The failure of other Israelites to see this situation
constructively also demonstrates how inherently human it is to
expect failure, even when the prospects for success are
excellent. Regardless how achievable a dream may be, others
simply may not believe that itís possible for them. While itís
tragic that people often fail to recognize golden
opportunities, itís reason for encouragement whenever we fear
that others may crowd us out of reaching a desired goal. We
may find, as my dad did in the endurance contest, that the
competition is insignificant. And our availability alone may
make our success possible, if we just make a reasonable
effort. No story in Scripture illustrates this factor better
than that of David and Goliath.
Follow Your Star
Davidís encounter with Goliath, then, helps us to think in
terms of doors being open rather than closed. And his passion
for life, which this incident reveals so vividly, inspires us
to take our own dreams seriously. We are encouraged both to
dream big and to embrace our dreams with greater confidence.
Keep Davidís experience with Goliath in mind whenever you are
entertaining a major step with your life.
Perhaps you will find it helpful, too, to remember Milton
Smith cycling endless circles around Hainís Point in August
1927, and persisting till he achieved his goal. His experience
inspires me for obvious reasons: because of my relation to
him, and because the event is part of our family history. Yet
you may find inspiration in it as well because of the timeless
lesson it offers--that passion and availability greatly
enhance our potential for accomplishing a dream.
Is there a dream you have wished to realize but have lost
heart about achieving? To the best of your knowledge, does it
fit well with your life as God has designed it? Take heart
that God may see your possibilities radically differently than
you do. Pray earnestly for his help and direction. Resolve to
put your energies into doing what you can to reach your dream,
rather than into explaining why it cannot be accomplished. Get
the best counsel you can about how to proceed, from people who
believe in you and want you to succeed.
Then step out in faith, and enjoy the
incomparable adventure of moving toward your goal. Apart from
Godís giving you a clear reason to change direction, keep
persisting till you reach it. Riding out a dream to the finish
makes all the difference.