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Pat Johns: Athlete, Photographer, Agent of Change
feature story in Plano Profile magazine, June 2006

It is frightening. It is uncomfortable. It is life altering. But it is also exciting and invigorating. It is change, and according to Pat Johns, photojournalist and motivational speaker, it does a body good. He should know. A suburban soccer-dad-turned-consummate-athlete, Johns is the only person in the world to complete the rigorous 100-mile Himalayan marathon four times.

“This race is truly the most beautiful course in the world. You can’t deny that because you are in view of four of five of the world’s tallest peaks. The payback in part is the beauty, the cultural experience, and the camaraderie. The race is so gut-wrenching hard; it is really whipping. Once you come out on the other end of a deal like that you are forever changed. At this point, no payback is tied to endorphins. You are past the point of endorphins,” Johns said.

Johns calls himself an agent for change. He has spoken to Rotary clubs, financial advisors, American Red Cross staff, high school students, and organizations for weight-challenged individuals and the blind. Regardless of the audience, his universal message tickles the buried dreams in people’s minds and inspires them to tackle their hearts’ desires.

“People are as equally addicted to thought processes as they are to food. When you decide you are going to make some kind of large change in your life, you feel like you are going to die or have a nervous breakdown. It manifests itself with grief, or fear of failure, or the unknown,” Johns said.

One of the biggest battles in Johns’ life was not running the grueling 100-mile race but battling for his existence after contracting a staph infection from a knee surgery. Two surgeries later, he went on to run the treacherous Himalayan race three more times. Johns is not the only one who believes his calling is to share the knowledge that he has gleaned from elite athletes during the Himalayan race.

Charged to share the message
After running the race, Johns came back to the United States and wrote an article about his experience. In 2003, prior to running the race again, he was invited to spend the day with Mr. Pandey, the man who founded the Himalayan 100 Mile Stage Race, and his family. After a plane flight to India, he took an 18-hour train ride to Varanasi, the renowned holy city where the Ganges River carries the cremated remains of many religious pilgrims. Upon his arrival, he was surprised to find the family’s car decorated with flowers and filled with gifts and even more surprised when he was adorned at the temple they visited.

“They put flowers around my neck, and I am thinking of Gilligan’s Island and how they are preparing me for a sacrifice,” Johns said grinning.

After feeling the dot on his forehead grow larger and larger with the priests' rituals in a two-hour ceremony, he was completely perplexed. Once he arrived at Pandey’s home, he learned the story behind the celebration. Fifteen years earlier Pandey visited a Hindu guru. The wise man’s words were so sought after that people waited for weeks just to shake his hand and glean insight. The holy man told Pandey he would draw people from around the world to see the Himalayas. Pandey went home and created the Himalayan marathon. The following year he went back to see the wise man, who directed him to bring a journalist. However two weeks after delivering his message, the wise man died. After years of scrutiny, Pandey decided that Johns was the journalist the wise man requested.

Sharing the wisdom of athletes
So how does this man who can run five-day mega marathons inspire others to make their dreams a reality? He teaches them lessons he learned from athletes in the trenches. He teaches them the five C’s: leaving your comfort zone, commitment, connection, common sense, and compassion.

According to Hank Bashore, senior vice president of investments with Citigroup Smith Barney and chairman of the board of the Dallas area chapter of the American Red Cross, Johns’ talk was inspiring and uplifting.

“I think most, if not all, people were moved by how Pat had related the challenges of the Himalayan 100 and the five C’s to how the American Red Cross staff had to go above and beyond duty during the recent hurricanes. I’m in investment sales and I’ve heard many inspirational speakers, but Pat has a genuine quality where he comes down to the level of every man and woman. He makes you realize that you can do it, too, that you just have to follow these principles, and you will get there,” Bashore said.

Johns preaches a change in perspectives. He has come to the conclusion that individuals’ thoughts truly influence the way they view things. That vision in turn alters people’s actions and interaction in the world around them.

“If I look for heart-shaped rocks, they are everywhere. My eyes take in 40 billion bits of information per second, but the brain only processes two thousand. The brain wants to take the path of least resistance. Within the two thousand bits of information, we select what we want to see. If you drive a blue minivan and look for them, you will see them everywhere. We have so much information that whatever you look for, you’ll find,” Johns said.

Susan Lynch, regional communications manager for Keller Williams Realty, met Johns while she was running on Plano’s tree-lined Chisholm Trail. Frustrated with the fact that she could not match the speed of her running buddies, she was inspired by Johns’ stories of triathlons and ultra-marathons. To her surprise, by the time they were finished talking she had run nine miles.

According to Lynch, Johns frequently talks about making connections. Lynch didn’t understand the power of that idea until she met a woman at a half marathon, and they became running buddies. Her new friend helped her to get a new job, and it wasn’t long before Lynch was running marathons. She was no longer in a hurry to finish the race and began to really enjoy the experience.

“It is really cool how it all works out, and I attribute it all to Pat. He helped me to be happy about my own style and speed. It has given me more focus because if I can run a marathon, I can do anything. That determination of doing it, no matter what, can’t help but carry over into the rest of your life,” Lynch said.

The teacher becomes the student
According to Johns, every time he runs the Himalayan marathon he learns a big lesson. In 2002 he watched a dehydrated Japanese woman use an IV from a jeep and saw just how far certain people were willing to go. Last year, Johns raced with a man from Hong Kong who was also racing for the fourth time. The man was not friendly, and he did not make it to the finish line. This time Johns learned the value of taking the high road.

“This year’s lesson was how important the human condition is. It is easy for our egos to jump up and say, This is about me. It is part of human nature to feel that way, but you need to put that feeling in check and not take pleasure in someone else’s pain,” Johns said.

Johns also finds inspiration in the people he meets on a daily basis like the service manager at the Goodyear tire store. Pleased with the service he received, he paid the man a compliment and then asked how they accomplished it. The gentleman told him that you either pay the price of discipline or you suffer with regret.

“I realized that at any time, the role of teacher versus student can flip-flop and that at any moment I might be served up the biggest lesson of my life. I just have to look for it,” Johns said.

According to Johns, athletes’ faces glow at the end of a race. He asserts that people from all walks of life radiate that same glow when they choose to change and work on the things they want to do.

“We create the future. Why can people walk on coals? Because they believe they can. How do you run a marathon up a mountain in the high altitude? The answer is that you are with 50 other people, and they all believe it is possible to do. It is all a matter of what you think you can do,” Johns said.

To read the complete article at the Plano Profile website, click <here>

For more information about the Himalayan 100 Mile Stage Race, visit or

Heather Darrow is a Plano-based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to Plano Profile.