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Chasing Windmills

During the final class meeting of my Spanish III class at Clarion University in December 1985, Professor Rafael Diaz y Diaz (a huge fan of Cervantes’ epic novel Don Quixote) left us with the following advice:

“Always chase windmills. Even if they call you a crazy old man – keep chasing windmills. The day you stop chasing windmills is the day you die.”

Throughout my life, I’ve tried to heed Professor Diaz y Diaz’s words of wisdom, firmly believing that the fatigue and injuries one endures during a “noble quest” – to quote Cervantes’ knight errant – are but a small price to pay for all the richness and rewards that the noble quest provides.

And in that spirit, I celebrated turning 50 years old in 2014 with a good old-fashioned noble quest – one I appropriately dubbed “Chasing Windmills.”

During the 2014 calendar year, I ran 52 marathons (1,362.40 miles) as a fundraiser for the Colorado Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association in memory of my mother (Audrey Jean Knapp) who we lost to early onset Alzheimer’s in 2001. Without a doubt, watching Mom deteriorate as the disease progressed was the most emotionally painful experience of my life. But watching the physical, mental, and emotional toll it took on my father as he tried to care for her was a close second. So the challenge of running 50 marathons in one year paled in comparison to what Dad went through as her caregiver. In fact, I originally planned to run 50 races to match my age, but I decided to run two extra marathons to honor Alzheimer’s caregivers everywhere because they have to go “the extra mile” each and every day.

While running 52 marathons during a calendar year probably IS a little crazy, it also perfectly illustrates the most important of the “26.2 Lessons Every Leader Must Learn and Live”: The .2 (“point to”) being a leader is serving others. Just as I dedicated a year of my life to raise money for a cause I cared deeply about, I ask the leaders I work with to practice “service-first leadership” by focusing on sharing power, developing people, and meeting the needs of others. This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t value traditional organizational metrics such as efficiency, growth, and profits – or that they shouldn’t desire individual measures of success such as financial rewards, increased responsibilities, and, yes, ego gratification. It simply means they should get those results by gaining the commitment of others through a service-first mentality.

To learn more about “service-first” leadership and the “26.2 Lessons Every Leader Must Learn and Live”, please check out the description and course objectives for my flagship Marathon Leadership® training. And if you’re looking for a keynote speech that will both inspire and entertain your audience, “Chasing Windmills” is my most-popular keynote presentation. It chronicles my 2014 marathon quest and encourages audience members to undergo their own heroic journeys to wisdom and service.

Medal Giveaway

My good friend Brian Blackburn designed this awesome logo for the quest.
Me coming down the home stretch at the Mississippi Blues Marathon on January 11, 2014 - Marathon #1 of the quest
I wore specially designed back bibs for each of the 52 races. This is the one I wore for the final one (the Space Coast Marathon in Cocoa, FL on November 30, 2014).