April 23, 2016

Ukrainian Grandfather Credits Adventist Diet for Gold in Half-Marathon

A pastor and grandfather from Ukraine says he won gold in an international half-marathon by simply following the health principles taught by the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Yurii Denysenko, pastor of two churches in Ukraine’s southern Kherson region, placed first this week in the men’s 55-plus age category in the race in Moldova’s capital, Chisinau.

“From my own experience I know that the Adventist lifestyle, especially our diet, makes us marathon-ready,” Denysenko said in remarks released by the Adventist Church in Ukraine.

He encouraged other church members to put their faith into action by running, saying four to six months of training should be sufficient for any healthy person to run 5 miles, 15 miles or even the full 26-mile (42-kilometer) marathon.

“If faith without works is dead, then run a marathon, or a smaller distance, and you will be more convincing when sharing the benefits of a healthy lifestyle,” he said.

Denysenko, who was participating in his first race, finished the 13.1-mile half-marathon in 1 hour, 43 minutes last Sunday. He placed 71st overall, according to the website of the Chisinau International Marathon.

Denysenko said that running with 15,000 participants from 62 countries was a dream come true.

“I never had a chance to run a marathon in my youth,” Denysenko said. “Sooner or later dreams must be fulfilled, so why not now?”

Even though Ukraine has its own sporting events, Denysenko said he chose to run in neighboring Moldova to honor his daughter, who turned 25 on April 17, the day of the race.

“Exactly 25 years ago to the day, my daughter was born in Hospital No. 2 in Chisinau, just 800 meters from the marathon’s starting line,” he said.

He decided that running the marathon would be a special and memorable gift for her. After finishing, he received an e-mail from her in Chicago, where she lives with her husband. He said the message read, “This is a cool gift for me!”

Yurii Denysenko posing with his wife and his first-place medal. (Ukrainian Union Conference)

Other Adventist believers have also shown an enthusiasm for marathons.

In 2013, a Kenyan Adventist, Priscah Jeptoo, placed first in the women’s division of the New York City Marathon, taking the gold and the accompanying US$500,000 cash prize.

At the age of 64 last year, Gary Rittenbach, director of academic computing at Walla Walla University in the U.S. state of Washington, joined a small club of runners in completing all six of the world’s top marathons: New York, Chicago, Berlin, Boston, Tokyo, and London.

The Adventist Review reported in 2014 that Moses Christian, an 82-year-old practicing physician from Loma Linda, California, had completed 237 full marathons in the past 21 years.

That story prompted Teenie Finley, who is married to evangelist Mark Finley, to run her first marathon at the age of 70 in Florida last year to raise money for a church. She ran the marathon again this year.

Marathons and the Adventist lifestyle are such a good fit that local church leaders decided to sponsor the annual marathon in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Since last year, the race has been named the “Seventh-day Adventist 7 Bridges Marathon” in honor of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Back in Ukraine, Denysenko said it was important for a pastor to practice what he preaches and he wanted to set an example for others, including members of his congregations in the Kakhovka and New Kakhovka churches.

“The church teaches a healthy lifestyle, so why not apply its principles with the race?” he said.

Denysenko noted that running also helps him stay in shape.

“A pastor should be fit, and running helps,” he said. “It doesn’t look good when a belly starts to appear. After only a short time, it becomes the boss.”