I found myself barely conscious, in an ice bath, on a Virginia Beach boardwalk.
How did I get there? It’s simple. Pride. Well, that and a pretty girl.
Pride is a word that gets thrown around a lot—typically in a negative context—to try to explain why someone is selfish or rude. Pride is essentially putting our confidence in ourselves and our abilities rather than God. I don’t know about you, but even though I try to follow Jesus, pride comes pretty naturally for me.
I care way too much about what people think of me. I do everything in my power to make sure that people like me and think of me in a specific way. This pride causes me to make some pretty unintelligent decisions in my life from time to time. And my pride is what brought me to Virginia Beach.
I had decided months prior, in an attempt to please a girl that I had a crush on, that I would run a half marathon. She was into running, and I was not. This would surely give me some big bonus points. And c’mon. How hard could it be?
I had heard stories of people waking up and running full marathons with no preparation at all so if I just got out and ran here and there, 13.1 miles would be a piece of cake. I had convinced myself that all of the energy and athletic ability from high school would come flooding back into my body as soon as I stepped up to the starting line at the race.
Boy, was I wrong.
In all honesty, the first seven or eight miles weren’t all that bad. Sure, I was tired, but I expected that. However, all hell broke loose at mile nine. My head started spinning, I couldn’t see straight, and I thought I was going to puke. I told the friends I was running with to keep going, and I’d catch up to them in a second.
For the next four miles, I somewhat walked and somewhat ran towards the finish line. When I would get dizzy, I would walk. Then, as soon as I could see straight, I would start running again. Repeat this about ten times, and that was my last four miles.
It was a humbling moment for me. Turns out I wasn’t Usain Bolt or any other world-renowned runner. I didn’t have superhuman powers to allow me to run long distances with no training. I certainly wasn’t my athletic high school self. I was Ben Schutte, an out-of-shape college kid from Cincinnati.
So here was my humbled self, stumbling across the finish line. As if on cue, my legs gave out, and I fell to the ground. I don’t ever remember losing consciousness, but most of what followed was a blur.
I was helped to my feet by some race volunteers and guided to the medical tent. They laid me on a bed and took my core body temperature. Please feel free to look up the most accurate way to take a core body temperature; it makes it funnier. Immediately, the guy in charge yelled, “He’s at 107! Get him in the ice bath!”
Now, you don’t have to have a medical degree to know that a 107-degree body temperature isn’t good. At around 108, the brain starts to get so hot that, in essence, it begins to melt and permanent brain damage occurs. I found out later that just two months before my incident, a University of Maryland football player died after his body temperature rose to 107 during practice. Of course, I knew none of this and cared little at the time it was happening.
Next thing I knew, I was being picked up by a bunch of guys and carried over to the other side of the medical tent. Once there, I was submerged from the neck down in freezing cold water. Every part of my body was tightening up. I couldn’t move at all.
I think I might die. God, I don’t want to die. Save me, God. Save me, God. Save me, God.
Those words were racing through my head over and over for the next 20 minutes as I was lying motionless in the ice bath. I was terrified, I was in pain, and I finally realized how helpless I was.
Everything leading up to and during that race was about me and the confidence I had in myself. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized all of that confidence was fleeting, and the only thing left for me to put trust in was God.
Save me, God. Save me, God. Save me, God.
That was the only thought, the only words that could come out of my brain. I didn’t know what was happening, and I couldn’t do anything about it.
Thankfully, my temperature began to drop. I was eventually transported to a local hospital where my body was given fluids and returned to a comfortable 98.6 degrees (but not before dropping all the way down to 94 degrees at one point. They kept me in that ice bath waaay too long).
That day was a wake-up call for me. It’s a cliché, I know, but I was reminded that every day really is a gift from God. I thought about what my mom used to say to me when I frustrated her as a kid (jokingly, of course): “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out of it just as easily!” The older I get, the more I realize that’s a mindset that we should actually live by.
Every day is a gift. We have the opportunity to live our lives for a God who loves us and cares for us; who protects us even when we make dumb decisions (like running a half marathon without training for it); who loves us enough to sacrifice his son for us.
I frequently remember that day. I have my race poster hung up next to my bed as a reminder that the confidence I have in myself and my abilities will always fail me, but God remains strong when I am powerless.
As I look back, I’ve realized that I was doing all of this for a relationship that would never fully satisfy me instead of for a God whose love endures forever. I believed in my own abilities too much that day, but I’m thankful that I have a God who loves me so much that in those moments, he wants to fight for not only my life but my heart. And I believe he wants to fight for yours too.
I was in a helpless position, but I was not hopeless. I may not have been able to save my own life, but at that point, I had no choice but to have faith that God could. And He did. You don’t have to wait until your body shuts down. Whatever is going on in your life, that simple prayer—Save me, God—can be all it takes.