07/27/2012 05:54 pm ET Updated Sep 26, 2012

Making Time Count


There is something mystical about the moment of selecting a fortune cookie. The anticipation is often more thrilling to me than actually cracking open the cookie itself.

The dinner table inevitably goes silent when four sugary mysteries are dealt out to four pairs of waiting, wondering hands. Even when I'm making a quick stop at Panda Express on my way to Painting class, I feel my hand's slight hesitation over the fortune cookie bowl as I try to intuit the right choice -- or is it that I want the right fortune cookie to sense and select me?

Of all the fortunes I have received, my favorite came from was one of those Painting class Panda Express slips of paper. The message read:

Counting time is not so important as making time count.

Being a competitive distance runner and four-year member of the USC Track & Field Team, this wisdom immediately resonated with my deep passion for running and the deepest reasons why I train and race. The ultimate triumph of running is not in counting time -- in the race results and personal records that can be measured against runners past, present, and future. Rather, running's true greatness sources from making time count -- because above all, running is a practice for living well. Self-understanding and camaraderie with teammates form the real fortune.

My time in Ghana, West Africa this past winter reaffirmed my fortune cookie's truth. I led my 501(c)(3) non-profit organization Give Running's team on a ten-day trip to Ghana to hold Give Running's first international Pyramid Running Camp. In addition to teaching kids proper running technique, well-balanced training, nutrition, sports psychology, and injury prevention, we also worked on leadership, teamwork, goal-setting, and achieving personal success by giving your best effort.

With Coach John Wooden being one of my most esteemed role models whom I once had the privilege to spend an afternoon visiting in his home, my favorite exercise challenged teams of youth campers to find and then assemble different character trait blocks to physically build Coach Wooden's Pyramid of Success -- thus the name "Pyramid Running Camp."

We also partnered with the two local NGOs iStandAbove and Witness Hope to conduct a soccer tournament, coaching clinic, and basketball clinic. In total, we worked with more than 300 youth and 25 elite coaches, using sports to engage the community in how the lessons and character traits forged through sports apply to all aspects of life. Other highlights from the humanitarian trip included donating Give Running shoes; distributing food to hundreds of disadvantaged children in one of the most impoverished neighborhoods in Accra, Ghana's capital city; and being interviewed live on Ghanaian national television.

My experiences in Ghana taught me that I am my most authentic and joyous self when I am empowering others to run forward -- toward dreams, toward passions, toward fulfilling lives. Making others count makes time count.

"A long life may not be good enough," noted Ben Franklin, "but a good life is long enough." It is not the time that we count, but rather the time that we make count which matters most. Unless we make time count, after all, does measuring it even matter? This holds true far beyond the realm of running.

Life is fragile. The poverty I witnessed in Ghana broke my heart. And the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado is but our most recent reminder that living a long life is not in our control.

But life is also beautiful. Even in a time of deep suffering, the goodwill and kind deeds around us each day are a constant reminder that leading a good life is a gift we can choose to share with the world. As we grieve for lost loved ones and work to correct injustice, may we remember that giving is good medicine.

Indeed, individuals and whole communities are coming together to make sense of death by fully embracing life: some donate blood to save the lives of strangers, others contribute to funds supporting victims. The connections we forge and the joy we kindle helps us heal. We move beyond counting time, and mourning lost time, in order to make time count by helping others as best we can.

Too often, it takes a shooting or a journey halfway around the world to remind us to not take any moment for granted -- as well as to remind us how much a single moment can matter.

The hands of the clock can measure a long life, but only our own hands can make it good.

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