It was one of my more surprising letters. A few weeks ago, I received a news article in the mail from Rev. Darrell (Mitch) Mitchell, a retired pastor in the Iowa Annual Conference. Darrell had been highlighted in the Morningside College alumni newsletter, Alumni Showcase. What you need to know about Darrell is that he has been a runner for much of his life. However, it wasn’t until he reached his 80’s that Darrell came into his own as an athlete.
In the article, Mitchell says that he grew up in a loving home and became more serious about his faith when he was in high school. He started with something as simple as saying grace at the dinner table. He said, “It was Rev. John Ackman who helped me get enrolled at Morningside College. I chose it over any state institution because of their Christian values. With a faculty holding moral values and Christian organizations on campus, it built confidence in my life.”
Darrell, 92, developed a love for running when he was a student at Morningside, and the well-known NFL football coach, George Allen, was his track coach. Even to this day, Mitchell can hear Allen’s words of encouragement in an effort to develop his confidence, “Come on, Mitch. You can do it!” Darrell’s theme verse is Hebrews 12:1 (RSV), “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”
During Darrell’s time at Morningside, he became part of a religious group on campus, which gave him confidence to share his faith and practice Christian values. Adult mentors inspired him to commit his life to making a difference in the world.
Mitchell grew up on a farm in Perry, Iowa. He actually felt a call to ministry from his childhood pastor, who recognized something in Darrell and often asked him to help out in the Methodist church he attended. It was during his senior year in high school that Darrell responded to an altar call, saying to himself, “I want to do something for God.” After graduating from college, Darrell enrolled in Wesley Theological Seminary in Maryland. He then spent three years taking Clinical Pastoral Education classes so he would be better equipped to provide pastoral care in the churches he would serve.
In Mitchell’s long and distinguished ministry career, he always sought to empathize with hurting people and was an advocate for social justice. Darrell’s first church was Gray Methodist Church, where his annual salary was $3,600.
Mitchell began his running career when he turned 50. At 57, Darrell participated in the Iowa Senior Games in Des Moines and kept at it for many years, winning over 200 gold medals and many more silver and bronze medals. He has always persisted, even when he tore the hamstring in his right leg when he was 85 years old. One doctor said Darrell should give up running. But after three months of physical therapy, Mitchell went to the local YMCA, worked out for several months and was able to run again. “Come on, Mitch. You can do it!”
Perhaps Darrell’s most significant accomplishment was running in the National Senior Games in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 2019 at age 91. Mitchell qualified for ten National Senior Games, and whenever he competed, he took a grandchild with him. It was always a great joy for the grandchildren to watch their grandpa run and compete. As Darrell prepared for the Senior Games, he explained how he trained. He said that he decided at age 70 to save his legs by doing exercises like fast walking, using the elliptical machine, and lots of stretching. Darrell added, “It’s also important to stretch your mind and heart as well.”
Urged on by his entire family, who were wearing red t-shirts with the words, “So let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,” Darrell won gold medals in both the 200 and 400 meters and wore a black t-shirt with these words, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” He said, “When I crossed the finish line, it was like my track coach (coach) Allen telling me, ‘Come on, Mitch, you can do it!’” And he did.
In a phone conversation, Darrell said that he has no more running goals and has now taken up other hobbies, like bowling and painting. Darrell and his wife live in an apartment where he might run a few miles of the treadmill. He also has a big garden and is guarding his health by trying to keep in shape.
Several years ago, Darrell wrote a memoir called Grandpa Darrell Rocks and Runs. What impressed me most about Darrell and his long ministry is what he shared as the most important values in his life:
- Building self-esteem is so important. We need to encourage one another and fill others with positive feelings.
- Do not give up when things go wrong. Turn to God in faith and reach out for hope and wholeness.
- Treat your body like the temple of God that it is.
- Work toward a peaceful world.
- Find ways to deal with your stress.
- Let Christian hope enter into your life even when times are tough.
- We humans can do far more than we think we can.
- Fear of failure prevents us from becoming all we can be.
- Don’t just stretch your legs. Stretch your mind and heart as well. In 2011, Mitchell received a special award from the Methodist Federation for Social Action for his efforts to bring and social justice to Israel.
Darrell stayed healthy and enjoyed a long ministry career because he remained physically active, pushed himself to improve, and modeled for his congregation members how to reach out to a hurting world.
Come on, Mitch! You can do it! And so can we, with God’s help and the loving support of family and friends.
P.S. This is the last blog until September. May you take intentional time this summer to slow down, spend quality time with family and friends, and reach out to the least, the last, and the lost with the love of Jesus.