Failures can lead to success

Community: Tales from Team 99 Counties

Dennis Lee (left) and Daren Schumaker near the end of their 95th county, finishing O’Brien after the first attempt failed. (Kris Lee/community contributor)
Dennis Lee (left) and Daren Schumaker near the end of their 95th county, finishing O’Brien after the first attempt failed. (Kris Lee/community contributor)

Editor’s note: Daren Schumaker of Cedar Rapids and Dennis Lee of Walford are attempting to run across Iowa’s 99 counties to raise money and awareness for the American Heart Association. They’ve completed 98 counties. This begins the final countdown to No. 99, Delaware County, which the two hope to cross on April 15. This is No. 95. Next: Clay

A mere 1,317 days — or three years, seven months and seven days.

Three winters survived and four summers enjoyed, all the while with a thorn deep in each of our sides, a constant reminder of what could have been and, more importantly, a reminder of what never came to pass.

On March 9, 2013 we stepped onto the roadway at the western edge of Sheldon and into a 35-degree rain and a 20-mile-per-hour east wind. We ran 3.72 miles in an attempt to cross O’Brien County.

You read that correctly. An attempt. We failed.

History repeats itself. On Oct, 16, 2016, this often repeated statement loomed large in our minds as we — for the second time — made the long trek to O’Brien County in the far northwest corner of Iowa.

We left Cedar Rapids at 5 a.m. and spent nearly the next five hours driving through a warm and humid fog that only lifted once we started to head north from Highway 20. We made three stops and took a detour through Washta — “The Coldest Spot in Iowa,” having recorded an air temperature of 47 degrees below zero, without wind chill — during our trek to Sheldon. Check that. During our second trek to Sheldon.

At 10:15 a.m., we charged east into Sheldon and into a near 20-mile-per-hour east wind — for the second time. At least we were dry. At least it wasn’t raining. At least it wasn’t 35 degrees. Rather, it was 75 degrees. The first few miles of the day followed a paved trail through Sheldon. It all seemed rather familiar because, well, we had been there before. At times, it seemed as if history was indeed attempting to repeat itself as we tried to make the same wrong turns that we attempted to make so long ago.

Before long we had navigated our way through Sheldon and, after nearing completion of our fifth mile, we turned east onto Highway 18 and passed under Highway 60.


We settled into our run and hoped for excitement as we charted unknown territory, leaving behind Sheldon and the failure of March 9, 2013. We noted a few trees on the horizon and talked about how flat our surroundings were — so flat, in fact, we had run eight miles before we reached the trees we had noted as we departed Sheldon. The trees were on the western edge of Sanborn. We could literally see from town to town.

We passed our halfway point in Sanborn, visited a local park, and stopped at Vander Haag’s Truck Museum & Yesterday’s Memories Museum. We encountered a barking dog and looked into the windows at Sampson Corvettes as we returned to Highway 18 to continue our path to redemption. Unfortunately, our path to redemption consisted of a gradual uphill that lasted the better part of 10 miles and took us to the far side of Hartley. Hartley — “A Town With Heart” — served as a nice reprieve from the monotony, and we passed Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn High School just after completing our 22nd mile.

We continued to see many combines, and even more trucks hauling grain, as we enjoyed a nice down hill finish into an 18-mile-per-hour wind that carried the scent of our well-ripened redemption. We had finally arrived — now a mere 3 years, 7 months, 7 days, 3 hours, 50 minutes, and 49 seconds after we had started — 26.2 miles from where we had twice departed, completing our 95th — O’Brien County.

Thomas Edison famously stated, “I failed my way to success.” In other words, Edison learned from his experiences, failures included. He didn’t allow the history of his failures to be repeated. Unfortunately, for many of us, history does repeat itself. It has to, because we don’t listen. The fact of the matter is history has to repeat itself over and over again because most of us have short memories. Simply stated, if we don’t remember or if we ignore the past, history repeats itself.

Don’t fear, because in reality, history never repeats itself. Rather than history repeating itself, the reality is people repeat history. In the words of Voltaire, “History never repeats itself. Man always does.” In other words, the myth history repeats itself is built upon the sad reality that each generation refuses to read the minutes of the last meeting. We don’t take the time to learn from the experiences of those who have come before us.

All experiences are not easy, but there is only one thing more painful that learning from experience — not learning from experience. However, the best way to avoid the pain of learning from your experiences is to learn from the experience of others. While it is wise to learn from experience, it is wiser to learn from the experience of others.

What it all boils down to is quite simple. What you allow is what will continue. This isn’t a history lesson. This is a lesson of the human mind, your mind. Should you really be surprised when doing the same things produce the same results? If you continue to do the same things and expect different results, all you have learned from experience is you never learn from experience.

Please learn from our experience. From failure to success, and during the course of three years, seven months, and seven days, we gained 54 counties of experience. We needed that experience to allow the thorn that had been driven deep into each of our sides to painlessly work its way out. We learned what to do and what not to do. We made mistakes. We were successful. But, more importantly, we taught ourselves. We were not bound by history, we wrote our own.


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Inspiration through perspiration. Attempt to fail. It might feel as if you’re wandering around a dark forest with only a flashlight, only able to see a few feet in any given direction. However, even if you can’t see where you’re going — as long as you’re going — you’re making progress, and some progress is better than no progress at all.

Try. Fail. Try again. Fail. Try yet again. Take small steps and one day you will find yourself standing in the shadow of success.

Get up. Get active. Get busy living, or get busy dying. Write your future, don’t relive your past.

l To make a donation or buy a T-shirt, email Dennis Lee at

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