Robin Gray, Mark Gray, Tina Deason, Phillip Deason and John Deason pray before their run on a Saturday morning through Clanton. They all participate in a walk/run group organized by Liberty Hill Baptist Church called “Temple Restoration.”

By Scott Mims

You don’t have to look very far to find an exercise program.

In today’s society, where physical activity often takes a back seat to technology and its conveniences, it’s easy to see why people struggle to stay physically fit.

A Clanton area church-based walk/run group is looking at not only the physical benefits of exercise but also the spiritual benefits—and to these believers, the two aspects are inseparable.

The group, started by members of Liberty Hill Baptist Church, is called “Temple Restoration,” based on the biblical principle that a believer’s body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), and that exercise is all about restoring physical fitness.

Church member Robin Gray and her husband, Mark, began running a couple of years ago, using the Couch to 5K program. They completed their first 5K with their 7-year-old son, Caden, in March 2011. They have since completed two more.

“My family history is full of heart disease, stroke and cancer,” Gray said. “My father had a stroke in his early 30s. Mark and I decided a couple of years ago that we wanted our family to be healthy and active.”

Gray was recently inspired by a program called Run for God, which combines training for a 5K run with Bible study. She asked the church’s Discipleship Training director, Phillip Deason, to look into starting a group at Liberty Hill.

Phillip Deason, Robin Gray, Rachel Johnston and John Deason run through Goosepond Park in Clanton.

“After reading over the material, we decided we did not need to purchase a plan to teach us how to be fit,” Deason said. “All we really needed to do was get organized and get moving.”

Deason, an experienced runner and Bible study teacher, agreed to lead the group. He had been a casual runner until about five years ago, when a coworker invited him to do a 10K run and he agreed. Though difficult, the experience led to longer runs:

“The run was in February, and all I remember is it was really hard since I had never run 6.2 miles and I had not trained for it,” Deason said. “I did another 10K in November of 2007, shaving 4 minutes off my previous time. Being a competitive person by nature, I signed up for the Mercedes Half-Marathon, which was in February, only three months away. That did not leave much time to train and it really told on me coming over Red Mountain at about mile 10.

“Exhausted and just hoping to make the final 4 miles, I thought to myself, ‘I could never do a full marathon (26.2 miles).’ However, pain has a way of fading in our memory and a few months later I had begun to think about doing the full marathon in 2009.”

Before Deason started training, a dear friend was diagnosed with cancer. Around the same time, a group of coworkers began forming a team to run the Memphis St. Jude Marathon in honor of a coworker’s son who was a patient at St. Jude’s. Now Deason had more reasons to run.

“The run was scheduled for early December 2008 and it was already late July,” he said. “That left barely 4 months to get ready for what is undoubtedly one of the most grueling of all physical events on the planet. But now I was motivated.”

Race day arrived, and it was freezing. But throughout the race, he prayed for the children he saw on each poster, and also for his friend.

At about mile 7 he came upon a blind man running with his daughter. The two were connected by a 4-foot rope, and the man’s daughter was being his “eyes.” The man was two years removed from bypass heart surgery.

“He said, ‘Try doing this without being able to see the potholes,’ Deason recalled. “Suddenly, I felt small. In that moment, I realized no matter how tough something seems to us, there are always people out there that would love to have the abilities we have. I was also ashamed of the little I did with what I had been given.”

Deason’s goal was to finish in less than 5 hours. His time was 4:59:24.

Through Temple Restoration, Deason and Gray are challenging others to take that first step off of the couch. The group meets at Clanton’s Goosepond Park on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6:30 p.m. and Saturdays at 8 a.m. They also have a kettlebell program and short devotionals each week. They invite anyone to join them.

“Many times I have heard (church pastor) Brother Kent (Dodson) and other spiritual leaders speak about the church being the people and not a building,” Gray said. “My idea was to give our own people at Liberty Hill an opportunity to meet a couple of times a week for exercise and motivation while holding one another accountable. And, my hope was that the group would invite others to join us who may not know Christ or may not have a church home.”