Running God’s Race
In 2007, Mark Hapka registered for his first endurance race – the Chicago Marathon – just to see if he could finish it.
Five years later, he’d finished six marathons.
Mark’s seventh race was scheduled for September 2012 in Berlin, Germany. In June, while Mark and his wife Amber were visiting family in Marion, Louisiana, he and his step brother went out to drive ATVs. Mark crashed his four wheeler, leaving him severely injured and unresponsive. His brother trekked the mile back to the house to get Amber. When she got to him at the crash site, she saw that his left leg was completely mangled, and he told her, “I don’t think I’m going to be ready for the marathon in three months.”
The paramedics had to care flight Mark to the hospital at LSU Shreveport, and Amber had to drive the two and a half hours to meet him there. She recalled praying for him to live, remembering Scripture verses and praying through them. Then she realized she needed to pray for his salvation. While Mark would’ve told you he was a Christian, he hadn’t understood grace or the gospel and believed that if you were a good person, you would make it to heaven.
When Amber arrived at the hospital, the nurses told her they didn’t have anyone by the name Mark Hapka. She hadn’t cried until this point. Now she had visions of him in the morgue, and she cried, knowing he was surely dead. But the nurses looked again and realized he’d been listed under the name Mark Alexander, his first and middle name. He was there.
Soon after, the nurses brought Amber into a sterile room with a single chair and a box of tissues. She thought surely they were coming to tell her Mark didn’t make it. But the doctor came in with a smile on his face. He said Mark had broken his orbital bone in his face, some ribs, and had a tib/fib fracture. He’d also dislocated his right shoulder and had a complete left knee dislocation where all four ligaments had been torn. Despite the trauma he’d been through, he had no brain damage, and he began healing quickly, being brought in short order to a regular room from the ICU after the ER.
“I remember telling the doctor ‘God’s in the business of miracles,” Amber said. “God was at work starting the healing process, not just physically but spiritually.”
After 48 hours in the hospital, they headed home to Dallas, where Mark underwent a five-hour knee surgery. The doctor said it was one of the worst knee injuries he’d seen in his 25 years of practice, and Mark would be lucky to walk normally again in a year.
During his recovery, Amber did everything for her husband. He couldn’t work, so he spent his days at home, waiting for her to pick him up and bring him to physical therapy in the evenings. At the time, Amber bought a devotional for Mark to read every day. He would look at the day’s reading every morning and then go about his day watching sports and lounging on the couch, never thinking much of it.
Between July and December, Mark made significant progress in his recovery. He was able to work half days, and when he ran out of physical therapy coverage, the therapists said he could keep receiving therapy.
“I didn’t know it at the time, but God was working it out,” Mark said.
Mark had made such significant progress that the doctor cleared him to run a 5K race in December. On December 21st, he ran the Jingle Bell run in Dallas with a lot of apprehension. Despite his extensive injuries, he still managed to complete the race, averaging an 8-minute mile.
“Looking back, I can see the healing God was doing not just physically but spiritually,” Mark said. “Now I can see the seeds Amber was planting.”
In January 2013, Amber suggested they go to a service at Watermark Church. Mark thought, “Sure, I could stand to add a few more good deeds to the list.”
At that particular service, the pastor preached about how continually pursuing the passions of your life would never really bring fulfillment because only God can truly fulfill (John 10:10). Mark saw these patterns in his own life. He’d chased dreams of working for the Dallas Mavericks and completing marathon after marathon, always looking to the next big thing, never really feeling satisfied.
In March that year, just nine months after the accident, Mark passed the strength test for his quadriceps – the last big test he had to complete to signify healing. After the test, Amber reminded Mark of what she told him before leaving the Shreveport hospital, that he could’ve been dead or paralyzed, in a coma or without a limb, but he wasn’t – he was completely healed. “God has a plan for your life,” she told him.
A few weeks later, someone shared the gospel with Mark using the Bridge method, and for the first time in all those years, he finally understood. He gave his life to Christ.
The Berlin Marathon Mark had been registered to run in September the previous year had rolled over his registration to 2013 when he didn’t show up for the race, something that never happens for race no shows. Mark prayed that God would allow him to run the race in 2013 so that he could bring glory to Him and the healing he provided.
Mark trained for and ran the marathon, missing his personal record by just 13 seconds. Just fifteen months prior, he had been in an accident that should’ve left him unable to walk, but here he was, running a marathon.
“It became my platform to talk about God and what He’d done in my life,” Mark said.
In 2014, Mark met Ed Weaver, the President/CEO of Spoken Worldwide, at a Christmas party. Ed told Mark about what he was doing at Spoken and how he was using endurance sports to raise money and awareness for their mission.
Ed’s passion was contagious, and Mark was hooked. Mark ran the Boston Marathon with the Spoken Endurance team in 2015 to bring awareness and raise money, as well as to share his own story.
“I could see Ed’s trust in Christ in difficult and dangerous situations in the missions field,” Mark said. “I could see how Ed was stewarding Spoken’s funds in a way that was honoring to God, putting Him first.”
Mark has now fundraised for Spoken through one marathon each year since then, but he wears his Spoken Endurance gear for every race.
“I wear the gear as a way to fly the flag – I use it as a conversation starter, so I can tell people about God and about Spoken,” Mark said.
Mark hasn’t missed the parallels between running a physical race and running the race of life alongside God that Paul writes about in Scripture.
“Running a race, training for a race, takes time, endurance, and discipline, just like a heartfelt pursuit of the Lord,” Mark said. “I enjoy running because it’s an opportunity to talk about what God has done in my own life and about how Spoken is reaching the lost, unreached people groups across the world with the gospel.”
He always calls to mind Acts 20:24 as his life’s purpose – running races, sharing the gospel, and glorifying God.
“But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”
If you’re interested in joining the Spoken Endurance team, visit spoken.org/endurance.