From the moment I met him, I sensed something different. I just didn’t know what or how high he was reaching.
Aaron Burros emerged from the crowd carrying the 13-minute pacer flag. That meant he would be my pacer for the Allstate Hot Chocolate 15K in Tampa on December 16th, 2018. He was a commanding presence and we were about to learn why.
If you have been following me, you know that I’m a visionary facilitator working with clients determined to do what others think is impossible. I foster that disruption by helping them connect to collaborate and then create an innovation that disrupts themselves, their team, business or industry. Central to that breakthrough is the story we tell and the language we use.
As we crossed the starting line and established our 1-minute run – 1-minute walk rhythm of the Jeff Galloway running system, he got us talking. That’s different from any other pacer I’ve seen. The others were good at keeping our pace and very personable but Aaron took it to another level. He engaged us with humor, information, and encouragement. He had us singing and shouting, letting everyone nearby know we were there. It’s amazing how he was coaching us but also taking our mind to another level.
Every time we walked, he asked two people to introduce themselves with their name, where they were from, why they ran and their claim to fame.
Hearing each other’s stories, we were introduced, found similarities and motivation as we ran 9.3 miles.
Very quickly I realized this race was going to be much more than I anticipated.
The Power of a Story
It wasn’t until we were almost to the halfway point where Aaron shared his story. To everyone’s surprise, we learned that he started running in 2012 because his doctor told him he had to lose weight. He tipped the scales at 375 and was told to lose 40 pounds.
“I don’t have time to run.”
“How much time will you have when you are dead?”
The doctor was blunt.
“Get moving and lose the weight.”
Aaron didn’t start running until he joined the company’s health challenge. Being the gregarious guy he is, he volunteered to be the location champion.
Nothing like jumping right into the lead.
That challenge ignited a spark. Not only would he go on to lose the 40 pounds, but he also lost 100 pounds in the first year and 150 pounds in 18 months.
How did he do it?
Aaron is from Houston loves to run the trails of Terry Hershey Hurst Park. He also likes to push himself hard and the trails offer a challenge. The park has seven miles of trails inside a wooded area. He can choose from three different trails depending on his workout strategy.
But he also cleaned up his diet, challenging himself to eat healthier. The weight dropped quickly. It dropped so fast that his clothes no longer fit. That didn’t bother him as much as it did others. Interestingly, his mom’s best friend was so alarmed that she questioned the cause to his mother.
“He’s smoking that crack rock.”
“No,” his mom laughed, knowing he was never one to use drugs. “He is just running and eating right.”
In the next four years, he ran everywhere. Forest Gump had nothing on Aaron Buros. He stashed changes of clothes at friends’ homes all over Houston. Instead of driving, he ran, changed, enjoyed the time and then changed back and ran home. In those four years, he never drove his car. It was not uncommon for him to run 200 miles in a month. He peaked at 275 miles. That’s almost 70 miles a week.
Who does that?
The only ones who do that are thinking much bigger and reaching much higher?
That’s impressive for anyone but especially for someone who said they didn’t have time to run and lose 40 pounds.
By 2015 he was approaching his final race of the season, the Brazos Bend 100 mile trail race in Texas. His goal was to run 50 miles in 8.5 hours. Not bad for a 44-year old that used to weigh 375 pounds. After that final race, he knew he could ease up a bit, reducing his miles in December before running the Chevron Marathon in Houston in January.
But that wasn’t to be.
A Crushing Blow
On November 28, 2015, the day after Black Friday, he was working at a large retailer. Closing time came and he stepped outside to get a table cart. That is when he heard the page summoning all male associates to the front. Going to the returns door, he noticed an assets protection personnel stopping somebody as they were exiting the building. The conflict quickly escalated and the intruder was suddenly choking guard. Aaron knew instantly that he had to intervene or the asset protection personnel would be killed. So he jumped in along with several of his coworkers. Wrestling with the intruder, Aaron found himself lying on his back with the intruder on top of him.
That’s when the intruder, suspecting he was overpowered, shouted to his friend.
“Go to car and get the ‘tool.’ Put in ‘work.’”
They all knew they were in were in a struggle for their lives. Fearing for his coworkers’ lives, he shouted,
“Get in the store.”
There he was, on his back with guy on top of him. He felt the first intruder trying to get something out of his pocket. Aaron knew he had to prevent that.
That’s when the accomplice returned, holding the gun, and said,
“Let my nigga go.”
Aaron held his hands up, while still lying on the ground.
The intruder moved quickly and told the accomplice to “finish him.”
The accomplice obeyed and moved in for the “kill shot.”
He aimed at Aaron’s chest and squeezed the trigger.
In a defensive move, Aaron rolled to his left, shifted just enough so the ricocheted off the ground, grazing his torso and taking a piece of flesh with it. Quickly, the accomplice fired 4 more times, each one directly striking Aaron.
Three entered Aaron’s right glut area. The fourth struck his left glut area. One traveled down and across the pelvic area and through the inner thigh. Miraculously, it missed everything vital. It missed his femoral artery by a mere 1 centimeter before exiting his body.
He should have been dead.
He will never know another moment without pain.
The Rest of the Story
He didn’t share all the details until a call one week later. It was then that I learned he is still carrying two bullet fragments, one in each side. He will probably never return to his previous level of running and will always be in pain.
That part of his life is over.
So is his work life. The shooting left him so traumatized that he suffers from severe PTSD. Running is his only escape from the nightmares.
But the real life nightmares are still occurring. Those two intruders were never charged and are desperately looking to silence Aaron. He narrowly escaped the latest attempt on his life was threatened just before leaving Houston for the Tampa race.
Is there any wonder why he spends every day, all day at a Starbucks in the presence of police officers on break and doing their paperwork? It is literally the only place where he feels safe.
Aaron is running to stay alive.
How would you respond to those circumstances?
I’m guessing most of us would play it safe.
But not Aaron.
He wants to help others. Even in the midst of his pain and the threat to his wellbeing, he chooses to help others. As the #RunningServant, he runs to raise money to help those who can’t help themselves. He thinks bigger and reaches higher knowing there are others who are also in pain and he wants to help alleviate their suffering.
That is the very definition of compassion.
That is why he was our pacer. He was running to help us to do what we wouldn’t have done otherwise.
But you wouldn’t ever have known it without hearing his story. He was energetic, humorous and a great coach. He took us mentally and physically to another level while he was in constant pain.
The #runningservant runs for others while is in pain and threatened by others. That is thinking much bigger and reaching much higher.
Re-Engineering His Thinking
When he had every reason to quit and hide, he chose to serve. Running is no longer about winning but making a difference.
Even more impressive, he was running the world’s six major marathons in 2019 and 2020. In 2019, he ran the London Marathon in April, Berlin in September, Chicago in October, and New York in November. 2020 looked good until the pandemic struck, cancelling Tokyo in March and Boston in April.
So how does he adjust his thinking?
He thinks even bigger.
In 2021 he turns 50. To celebrate he is going to run 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 weeks. Wow!
Think about that goal. By the way, that also implies that he is going to run the Boston and Tokyo marathons that he missed this year.
How is that for thinking bigger.
Who does that?
Who does that with two bullets left in his body?
Who does that when they know they are not the runner they used to be?
Those questions sprinted through our minds as we forgot about the humidity or the sun peeking through the Tampa skies. There is something special about this man. He doesn’t think like others. He thinks much bigger and reaches much higher.
Maybe that is why he has recently launched his own transformational coaching program. He doesn’t just teach clients how to run, he coaches them to use running to transform their lives.
Donate to his Challenge
You can think bigger and reach higher by helping Aaron raise funds for charity. You can contribute to Aaron’s charity work by donating here to his charity in the Boston Marathon. Hale offers educational and recreational opportunities that develop self-confidence, inspire a passion for learning, and encourage Boston Public Schools (BPS) students to develop an appreciation for the natural environment.
Loren Murfield, PhD
I work with leaders and organizations to think bigger and reach higher to find breakthrough success.
Check out my two podcasts, “Holy Crap, How’d They Do That?” and “Trends, Bends & Opportunities.”
Learn how you can engage employees during their most traumatic moments in our newly revised and just-released book, “The ROI of COMPASSION.” Click here to purchase your copy of “Leading with the Power of Compassion.”
Check out the 4 books I published in 4 days last week.
Follow and share this blog.