Battles runs on faith

Tom Batters
Josh Battles

What goes through the mind of a runner when he is only halfway through the grueling mile, and his muscles are flaring with pain, and his stamina is seeping lower with each stride?

I could try to paint this picture as it pertains to Josh Battles, but it is better if you read it in his own words:

“When I’m super tired, and I don’t know if I can finish strong, I think of my mom. I think about all the times she’s been in the hospital, and when she almost passed away, and how she stayed strong, and how she keeps giving it her all every day. I just visualize her, and all that she has done for me, and it gives me an extra push. I race for her. When I think of her, I know I can give it my best, because that is what she has always done.”

Battles’ mother, Christina, suffers from a vertebrae disorder that has forced her to undergo multiple surgeries and long stints in the hospital over the past several years. She is still getting tests and treatment, and latest tests showed that she now has something wrong with her stomach as well.

“It’s been tough,” said Battles, a senior at Richwoods High School who will compete in the state track and field finals this weekend at Eastern Illinois University. “But, you just gotta have faith and keep going.”

Battles wears a large silver cross around his neck, and he speaks often of his faith in God. He does not sound pious, or give the impression that he is trying to sound better than anyone else. He just says it softly, but with plenty of conviction:

“God blessed me with the ability to run. I’m very grateful for that. There are some people who are in wheelchairs who would give anything to be able to get up and run, but they can’t. I’m not putting them down, because they have God-given gifts, too. I’m just saying that I don’t take anything for granted. I just try to go out and use the gifts that God gave me. And, no matter what happens, I have faith in God.”

Battles qualified for the state track and field finals, an event he said he looked forward to since last year when he attended as a spectator.

“I remember thinking how great the atmosphere was. It was so exciting. I wanted to make sure I got there someday,” he said.

He will compete in the 1600-meters (1 mile) against a couple nearby rivals, Dunlap sophomore Johnny Crain and Peoria Notre Dame junior C.J. Elward.

Battles, Elward and Crain are all in the top 10 in the state in the mile.

They are also close friends.

“We all push each other, but we’re not cut-throat about it,” he said. “We’re happy for each other, no matter who wins.”

Battles said another big goal is to break Tyno Carter’s school record (4:19.1) in the 1600-meters. That record has stood for 26 years.

Battles is eight seconds off that pace.

“I might get it at State. I just have to have perseverance,” he said. “That would be awesome, to get that record.”

Battles plans to attend Illinois Central College next year, but his long-term goal is to run track for a bigger college out west.

“My sister (Jamalia) and some other family members live out west. My mom is going to relocate out there in a couple years, so I’ll want to be out there with her,” he said. “I’ll do my best at ICC for a year or two, and then see where I can go after that.”

For now, he is focusing on the weekend when he will try to bring home a state title.

“It’s going to be very competitive,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ll win it or not, but I think I have a chance.”

He is not sure if his mom will make the trip, but she will be in his thoughts, especially toward the end, when the finish line is in sight.

“I’ll finish strong. For her.”