Going the Extra Mile

  By Heather Whittle Wrigley, Church News and Events

  • 19 July 2012

Returned-missionary-turned-collegiate-national-record-holder-turned-professional-athlete Miles Batty talks about sacrifice, overcoming challenges, and the blessings of keeping covenants.

Article Highlights

  • In 2006, Miles Batty walked away from his growing success as a college cross-country athlete to serve a mission in Belém, Brazil.
  • Miles said his experiences have helped him realize that all are blessed for their service, but that blessings come in different ways.

“When you give up something to serve a mission, you have to be ready to completely give it up, even if that means that you’re never going to be able to do that thing again.” —Miles Batty, record-holder for the United States indoor collegiate mile

In August 2008, Miles Batty had not run for two years.

Just back from his mission in Belém, Brazil, he walked into his second year as a member of the Brigham Young University track team—with which he had run during his first year of college—unconditioned and nearly 20 pounds heavier than when he left.

He didn’t know if he could return to the shape he had been in during his first year as a collegiate athlete.

On Saturday, February 11, 2012, at the Millrose Games at the Armory Track & Field facilities in New York City, Miles attacked his namesake event—the indoor collegiate mile. He beat the record by eight-one hundredths of a second with a time of 3:54.54 and became the fastest college mile-runner in U.S. history.

Things Left Behind

When Miles was 14 years old, he discovered a love of running when he joined his high school cross-country team. In his senior year of high school he won Utah’s cross-country state championship.

Recruited to Brigham Young University, Miles experienced a year of swift improvement before it was time for his mission.

“Ever since I was a little boy, I just assumed I would go on a mission,” Miles said. That assumption grew into an understanding of his priesthood duty to serve a mission, a duty he covenanted to fulfill when he was set apart as a missionary, just prior to leaving for the Missionary Training Center.

“You have to be planning on a mission,” Miles said. “You have to make up your mind that it’s something you’re going to do. You can’t leave it until the last second to decide something like that. I remember thinking when I left how hard it would have been to make that decision if I had waited.”

Six months into his service, he watched missionaries around him lose weight as he topped out at 180 pounds—30 pounds heavier than he’d ever been.

“I made myself accept the fact that I might never be able to compete again,” Miles said. “I always tried to tell myself not to worry about it, because if I wanted to worry about training I wouldn’t have come on a mission.”

He tried to use the 30 minutes per day allotted to missionaries for exercise to stay in shape, but it wasn’t enough. He found comfort in praying about the experiences he was having and what he had given up to serve, and he confided in Heavenly Father that he would appreciate the opportunity to compete again, if it was His will.

“Midway through my mission I just kind of accepted the fact that I may be [finished] athletically, but . . . I would still never regret my decision to go on a mission, even if it meant it was going to be the end of my athletic career,” Miles said.

He came to the realization that “Heavenly Father doesn’t necessarily care about sports or athletics, but I do think He cares about us. And so He cares about the things that are important to us in our lives.”

Running wasn’t the only thing Miles left behind to serve a mission. Like other missionaries, he also put his social life and academic progress on hold to concentrate on sharing the gospel with the people of Brazil.

In D&C 97:8, the Lord promises those who “are willing to observe their covenants of sacrifice” that they will be will be “accepted of [Him].” That promise gave Miles comfort, even when things didn't seem to be going his way.

“The biggest thing you have to realize is that even if things don’t work out afterwards, it’s still worth it—with girlfriends, jobs, sports, or scholarships. Anything you have to give up, even if you don’t get it back, is worth it,” Miles said. “I think sometimes people go with the wrong mentality, thinking, ‘Oh, I’ll go on this mission, give up this sport, and I’ll be even better after it because of it.’ And I think in many cases that happens, but I think when you give up something to serve a mission, you have to be ready to completely give it up, even if that means that you’re never going to be able to do that thing again.”

“We all have things that we leave behind, but it helps to focus,” he said.

The Blessings of Sacrifice

When he returned to the cross-country team, Miles quickly became frustrated with his inability to immediately return to his former level of performance.

In his 12 years at BYU, Ed Eyestone—men’s cross-country head coach and a 1988 and 1992 U.S. Olympic marathoner—has seen many athletes struggle to return to pre-mission fitness over the years.

“Many times they come back and they’re not nearly in as good a shape as before they left. In fact, we don’t expect [them to be],” he said. But hopefully, he said, “they’ll get back in shape, and they’ll be every bit as good or better than when they left. It’s a bit of a leap of faith.”

As a young man, Brother Eyestone served a mission to Spain, where he learned that it was due to the Lord’s blessings that he was able to build a successful professional running career and pursue something he was passionate about.

“Just take that leap of faith that blessings will come,” he said. “The vast majority of those blessings aren’t going to be physical in nature, but they’ll be blessings that will bless your life in so many amazing ways.”

In the March 2007 issue of the Liahona, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles outlined several nonphysical blessings that faithful missionaries will experience, including an increased ability to relate to people, greater love for and devotion to the Savior and His Atonement, and a better idea of the values and “goals they need in order to claim the promised blessings of the temple” (“How to Prepare to Be a Good Missionary,” 15).

With hard work and determination, Miles was able to return to fitness in five months. He found that the lessons he learned in the mission field helped him become a better runner.

“The mission … elevated my work ethic to the point it is now,” Miles said. “I felt like I was a lot more dedicated when I got back and very focused on my goals. I knew what I wanted, and instead of focusing on where I was at the moment or what I was capable of then, I was always focused on where I wanted to be.”

The reverse is true, too, he said—lessons he learned in running helped him on his mission. “I had learned to work hard, especially physically,” he said. “My mission was very hot and very exhausting. I felt like I was more tired after any given day of work on my mission than I am after a full day of training.”

Today, Miles—who is majoring in both neuroscience and exercise physiology—is one of the top scholar athletes in the nation, according to his coach.

The road lies open before him. In June, he competed in the finals of the 1,500-meter event at the Olympic trials, just missing qualifying for the 2012 London Olympics.

In spite of missing the Olympics, Miles said he knows the Lord has blessed him and will continue to do so. This summer, he entered the ranks of professional American runners.

“I believe we’re all blessed for the service that we put forth, but it comes in many different ways,” he said. “You can’t choose the blessings that you’re going to receive, and you can’t choose what you’re going to sacrifice and what you’re going to get back.”