I came across Ben Mueller's story in Chicken Soup for the Runner's Soul and it was one of my favorites in the entire collection. Ben says he loves to write inspirational nonfiction stories about his past experiences with sports. He teaches math at the high school and college level and has been involved in running and triathlons since he was nine years old. Today, he has completed more than 400 races from the 2-mile to the marathon. He has a goal of running a half-marathon in every state and so far has checked off fifteen states.
Ben is selling copies of Chicken Soup for the Runner's Soul to raise money for the Healthy Kids Foundation: http://kishymca.org/donate.html.
Tell us about your story in Chicken Soup for the Runner's Soul. What was your motivation to write this story? How did you go about turning an event from your real life into a short essay?
As a kid, I played just about every sport imaginable -- and years later, I realized how inspirational some of the lessons were and what sports can teach you about life. My mother gave me a Chicken Soup book when I was going through a rough time about ten years ago. One particular story really inspired me and I wanted to give the same gift back to others. I did not think about making a story out of the event until about four years after it happened. I knew there were lots of Chicken Soup books and I visioned one for runners coming out eventually. I really wanted to be part of that book when it came out. As far as writing the essay goes, it was pretty straightforward: basically, I thought about how that event inspired me, outlined the major points, and then wrote each paragraph.
Tell us about your website and blog. Do you have advice for people who want to start their own blogs/websites?
My blog and web site is about bringing my experiences to life. I blog for three reasons:
1) To keep past memories alive so in later years I can look back.
2) For my family and friends to read about my experiences.
3) So others can see how inspirational running can be.
I used to just blog about how I felt and did during my races. Now, I am taking it much deeper and am sharing the connections -- socially and spiritually -- that I get from racing. My advice to others is just go out and do it. Capture the moments. You won't regret looking back and remembering all the cool things that happened in the past. In addition, I think including pictures with your writing makes your blog a lot more interesting.
Is there anything you have learned about writing through running? (Or vise versa?)
Yes. I have learned that running is about the journey, not the destination. It is about perseverance, meeting new people, and learning more about yourself. Exercise really engages our brains in ways that non-exercisers don't understand. Some of my best thoughts come while on a long bike ride or run.
What is your writing routine? Do you write every day? Do you have a certain time or place you write?
I always write at coffee shops. I do not have a set time and place to write, but I try to write 3-4 times per week. I also try to update my blog frequently. During the school year, I get busy with teaching so I do not write as much as I do during the summer. I am a little strange in that I do not just focus on one story at a time; I will usually be working on 2-3 short stories at a time. When I write a short story, I always outline first and then write the paragraphs, but I don't always write the paragraphs in chronological order.
What is your biggest advice for kids and teens setting out to pursue their dreams?
My advice would be for teens to just continue to do what they love. I believe that as we grow up, many people stop their passions because other things get in the way. Make time to do what you love to do and don't worry so much about what others think. I always talk about the 4 P's to success -- patience, practice, persistence, and perseverance. I believe this to be so true. You need to vision success before it can be achieved and believe in yourself.
How do you overcome a disappointing race (or, for writing, how do you deal with a rejection letter from an editor?)
I always remember that the only way you lose is if you lack the courage to come out and try. Overcoming a disappointing race is easy because there is always another opportunity the next weekend. Remember that life goes up and down and when you're down... there is always an upswing coming!