Reaching a goal, inspiring Scouts to do the same

How far would you go to inspire your Scouts?

One assistant Scoutmaster had a specific distance in mind: 140.6 miles.

That’s the distance of an Ironman triathlon — 2.4 miles swimming, 112 miles biking, and 26.2 miles running. All that effort, says Mark Williams of Troop 16 in Parker, Colo., shows his Scouts what training and perseverance can accomplish.

Williams never reached Eagle Scout as a boy. He dropped out at age 16 — two merit badges and a service project shy of Scouting’s top honor. That’s like quitting the Ironman with eight or nine miles to go.

Mark Williams' "awesome support crew" consisted of his son and his wife.

“So because of Scouts and really wanting to inspire these boys, I trained and trained and trained,” he says.

And when he was finally ready to race, on a November day in Tempe, Ariz., Williams didn’t carry a photograph or a lucky rabbit’s foot. He clutched something designed to motivate him even more.

“All day long I carried my Life rank badge — as a reminder about falling short of goals,” he says.

That personal, private reminder was enough to drive him toward the finish line 15 hours, 52 minutes, and 54 seconds later.

And though the Life badge remained hidden, Williams’ Scouting pride was on full display.

“During the run,” he says, “[I wore] the shirt … to visibly show to everyone why I was running.”

On the bike for 112 miles — that's farther than the distance from New York to Philadelphia.

Racers typically won’t notice what others are wearing. They have other things on their mind. But Williams said his red, white, and blue BSA tech shirt caught the eye of more than a few competitors and spectators.

One guy told him he deserved the Physical Fitness merit badge. A woman watching the race got out of her seat to run with Williams and shake his hand. A boy watching from the sidelines pointed out the shirt to his friends and said, “Cool!”

But the best moment of all? “I had one person come up to me and say something,” Williams remembers. “I had not been paying attention, so when I asked him to repeat, he replied, ‘I said the Scout Law,’ and then recited it again.”

You couldn’t script a better moment.

A few weeks after the race, Williams made his accomplishment the subject of a special Scoutmaster’s Minute for his troop. He equated his path toward the finish line to the trail to Eagle. He started both of those journeys but only finished one. That makes him uniquely aware of just how difficult each can be.

Becoming an Eagle Scout, he told the boys, is like becoming an Ironman. Nobody can take the title away from you. And for the rest of your life, that distinction serves as a testament to your hard work and dedication.

Williams sent me a copy of his Scoutmaster’s Minute, and it’s powerful. My favorite part is when he addressed Life Scouts:

Nearly 16 hours after he started, Williams feels the joy of reaching the finish.

You now have 26.2 miles to go. At this point, you can look around and see who is next to you. Some of the people you started your journey with are no longer next to you. Some people you started with are ahead of you. Some may have already finished. Some are behind you, maybe enjoying the pace, or maybe struggling. Some may have already given up and dropped out.

You, however, are still in this, still working one step at a time, one requirement at a time. You can almost reach your goal. You are almost there, but not yet. With every signature, you get closer.

You have friends and family watching for you, cheering for you to finish your project, finish that last merit badge, cross that line. Strangers are even coming up to you, high-fiving you to help motivate you.

As you come around the last corner, you realize you have gone the distance. Realizing what you have accomplished. Realizing all your hard work has paid off. Realizing nobody will ever be able to take this away from you. As you walk on the stage, someone will congratulate you, and proclaim you are an Eagle, just as, when you cross the finish line, you are identified as an Ironman.

About Bryan Wendell 3269 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.