Saturday, April 12, 2014


I was twenty years old and deeply in love with two fellas at BYU.  To one I gave my heart.  To the other I gave my blood. 

Fortunately, this has not been a conflict for me; loving multiple men.  One started out pretty small, and never had to challenge Dave for my affections.  That’s my Johnny, my firstborn and only son.  He owns my heart as well.

John was born when I was an undergrad student at BYU, and Dave was attending BYU Law School. We huddled as a budding family all those years ago in our little house in west Provo.  I have such sweetly sacred memories of that singular time in our lives.

Spring ahead a full generation and here we are.  A few weeks ago, within hours of the birth of baby Walter, Johnny’s fourth child, John returned to BYU as the keynote speaker at a conference in the Marriott School of Business.  Dave had a jury trial and could not attend. (Dang criminals!) But Libby, Kate and I went to hear him deliver his address.  It was a blast from the past for Libby and me to walk across the campus of BYU, back past the Harris Fine Arts Building where we had taken most of our classes, past the statue of Brigham Young and the angular Smoot Administration Building, across the parking lot to the lovely new edifice for the renowned school of business.  We waited on some leather couches in a sitting area while the conference participants finished their lunch.  I watched silently as my boy-turned-to-a-man interacted with people; students greeting him with a sense of awe, others feeling his down to earth approachability and sparring in that youthful sort of way, kind of like flirting but without so many hormones flying around.  I watched him and remembered seeing his tiny face for the first time, all those years ago, his deep brownish black eyes staring up at me.  I remembered thinking “Who are you? And who will you become, my tiny man?” Seeing him in the town where he was born…I don’t know…it just sort of felt like the closing of a circle for me.

John, as National Director of Events for The Color Run, as well as a member of the advisory board for the BYU Department of Recreation at the Marriott School of Business, was introduced with great respect.  He had spent much of the last couple days with the people in attendance, and they knew of his experience, and expertise.  Couple his knowledge and skill with his unmatched ability to relate to people and he had them, so to speak, in his pocket from the get go.

He began by projecting a photo of baby Walter up on a large screen at the front of the room. One hour old.  Beautiful Walter.  He talked about his darling family, and his years at BYU (he has a degree in Philosophy from BYU).  He told about the Color Run, about its inception as the brainchild of his friend Travis Snyder, and about the philosophies and tenets that quickly catapulted “The Happiest 5K on the Planet” into the stratosphere of events. 

Then he talked about bagels.

Well, actually, he first asked a question:
“What will you say about this when it's over?” 

About this conference, about your experience at BYU, about this address?    He asked the question, not because he wanted an answer from them.  He wanted them to know that question.  That question, basically, was what he wanted them to take away from his address.  It is what he asks himself before every event.  “What do I want people to say when they walk away from The Happiest 5K on the Planet?

Take a look at what the COLOR RUN is about at the end of this post.  A basic component of the event is the throwing of colored cornstarch at various stations along the route.  Of course, this is not the only component that makes this particular event so popular.  There are many imitation runs that have popped up since Travis first shared his brilliant plan with Johnny at his kitchen island. Still the Color Run blows the others out of the water in success. But color, for sure, is a major component. Over 2 Million people have participated in the Color Run in the last 30 months.  That’s a lot of happy runners! John oversees all the runs in America, with event directors serving under him. 

One time they were hosting a run in Austin.  It had rained for two straight days before the event. John is not able to be at all the races, since there are often multiple races in multiple places on any given weekend.  Let me correct myself: the Color Run is not technically a race.  They do not time runners.  That, my friends, is part of what makes it a happy run.  There’s a lesson in that about what competition does to us.  Anyway, John happened to be in Austin for this particular race.  The staff begins setting up for each event around 4 am.  They have been able to, through wisdom, creativity, experience and teamwork, facilitate these giant parties in a relatively short period of time.  They set up, execute, and clean up to the pleasure of participants and the satisfaction of the cities that license them to use their parks and thoroughfares.  Somehow they have been able to get anywhere from 10,000 to 25,000 runners to pass through the start and finish lines in one single event, have a memorable time, and return the next time the Run comes to town with more friends.

So here it is 4 am in Austin.  They arrive at the venue and find the truck that is loaded with the colored powder, is mired in mud in the middle of the field where they hold their after-run concert/party.  John sets out to set up the Start Line, but tells the race director to make sure the truck gets to the color stations ASAP. He is conscious of the fact that the stewardship for directing this race lies with the race director. After a while John looks over at the field and notices the truck is still there.  He radio’s the director to take care of the truck. Just as the sun begins its ascent in the east John looks over again and sees the truck is still there.  At this point it is getting late for the color stations to have their colored cornstarch in place.  John leaves his own task to find the race director.  He finally finds him at the finish line, slicing bagels in half.  He asks what’s going on, and the director explains that a whole bagel is probably too much for each runner, so he decided to cut them.  And, noted Johnny, they were very nicely sliced.

John takes the director to the truck, which is sunken in the mud, and try as they might they cannot move it from the field.  They end up having to hand carry boxes to the stations, but not before time runs out.  Only two colors were thrown in that race, and there was a lovely panel truck smack dab in the middle of the party zone.

That director no longer works for The Color Run.

John explained, in his address to event planning students at BYU, that his objective in telling this story was to help them remember to ask the question before they start anything…any event…any relationship…anything that involves people: What do I want them to say when this is over?

“If we wanted them to say…’Hey, that Color Run has the best food of any run I’ve ever participated in!’ then we might have fulfilled our purpose.”

“Imagine the response you want…imagine what you want people to say when they walk away from your event.  Then work to make them say it.”  That’s basically what my boy taught me and a hall full of students that afternoon at BYU. I call it the bagel theory.

I have used the bagel theory in my head many times since then.  I have used it in the last month  planning gatherings of songwriters at my house, helping with a wedding and baby shower, taking a friend to birthday lunch, comforting through song at a funeral, even talking on the phone with my sister.  I use it, I should say, when I have my wits about me.  Sometimes, when I am overworked, or overtired, or overstressed, or even under confident, I catch myself figuratively "cutting bagels"…keeping myself busy with less important tasks while the important ones sit stuck in a field waiting for me to address them. When I forget to use the bagel theory I often find myself backtracking, trying to correct my mistakes, or bemoaning my failures.  But when I remember to ask ahead of time...when I have power to direct my actions rather than correct them…well I find it amazingly useful. I relieve myself from worry over things I cannot control, and I take control where I am supposed to. It doesn't make everything perfect, but it helps keep me in the right mindset for success.

As much as I know Johnny asks himself that question before events, I suspect he asks himself similar questions from the quiet of his bedside, or the solitude of his car. Maybe his newest question is this:
"What do I want Walter to say about this when it's over?"

And, since we are coming up on the holiest week of the year, tomorrow being Palm Sunday, perhaps the ultimate question to ask is “What do I want my King and Master to say when this is over?”

Click HERE if you want to know about THE COLOR RUN.
And HERE for a video.
The Color Run is eco-friendly.  And human mother friendly, as well.
John being blown away by some of his amazing Color Run team.

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