Randy Veltkamp was face down on the side of the road in full cardiac arrest. A woman who happened to have just learned CPR stopped and kept him alive, while his daughter ran to a gas station and called 911. His wife, who was working as a nurse at a local camp, heard the blaring sirens. She had a sinking feeling it was Randy, so she followed them.
By the time she got to Randy’s side, his pupils were dilated. He wasn’t responding. The fire department of a small local town was first on the scene and had a defibrillator.
They shocked him once with no response.
The second time — still nothing.
The third time, Randy opened his eyes and said, “Please don’t shock me again.”
He doesn’t remember any of it.
“People tell me I then just kept repeating the name of Jesus,” Randy says.
The name of Jesus is something Randy learned to depend on years ago. It is what carried him through a remarkable athletic career, running multiple successful businesses, and three near-death cardiac events. The name of Jesus was planted deep into Randy’s heart and mind nearly 48 years ago when he was a student at Timothy Christian High School.
“The Christian walk is about your need to surrender to Christ,” Randy says, who graduated from Timothy in 1970. “It’s not about what we can accomplish, or what we can attain, or how much money we make. We have to have faith. That is what gives you your true identity.”
It would have been easy for Randy to find his identity as an athlete. On his first day of school at Timothy, Randy signed up for basketball. But the basketball coach at the time, Don Greenfield, made all his players run cross country. So Randy laced up his basketball shoes and ran three miles.
He beat everyone.
And that single race, the one that he wasn’t expecting to even run, set the course for the rest of his life.
Randy, it turned out, was a gifted runner.
“It was quite a four year journey at Timothy,” Randy says. “I really developed and my coach had a huge impact on me and my faith. He set goals and gave me a vision for something bigger than I had imagined.”
By his senior year, Randy was the State Champion in the 800 meter and was ranked as one of the top runners in the United States. Running at the college level was no different for Randy; he found great success. As a freshman at Calvin he was a MIAA Champion in three different events.
But his sophomore year he suffered an injury that sidelined him for most of the season. But during the summer of 1972, he was part of a team of Division I Christian athletes that went to Africa and Israel for eight weeks.
“The assistant coach was from the University of Oklahoma and he was getting me pumped up and motivating me,” Randy says. “I asked for and received a full-ride scholarship to run, so I transfered.”
In December of 1972, he married his wife, Deb, and for the first time they were in the middle of a secular environment. “My wife and I found it was easier to clearly identify ourselves as followers of Christ,” Randy remembers. “There’s a polarity of beliefs in a secular environment. But I was taught right from wrong at Timothy and given the truth.”
Randy had four Big 8 Conference titles and was All-American. After graduation, he set his sights on the Olympics. But a barefoot workout on the beach left him with a torn achilles tendon. And with that, his Olympic dreams were dashed.
By 1980, he was once again ready to compete in the Olympics. But this time the Veltkamps were living in Grand Rapids and had a young daughter. A run at the Olympics would mean uprooting his young family. He decided not to compete. As it turned out, that was the Olympics that President Jimmy Carter decided Team USA would boycott.
“The bad side of being an athlete is you build your identity around your physical abilities,” Randy says. “Then all of a sudden it’s gone.”
Randy poured all his energy into building a successful company. By 1983, he was the president of a startup, and eventually very successful phone company, TeleDial America/US Signal, but it meant he had to work long hours. And by the age of 31, he’d become a diabetic.
“I just thought, this is okay,” Randy says. “I’m a super athlete, I can manage this.”
He continued working long hours and the company continued to grow, even making the Inc. 500 list. The summer he turned 40, he suffered his first major heart attack in the Colorado mountains.
“I wasn’t sure I was going to live through it,” Randy says. “That’s when your faith and family really come into focus.”
He spent the week in ICU. But two weeks later, he was back at work. “That’s the downside of having an athletic pride,” Randy says. “You think you can do anything.”
Six months later, during a stress test, it was determined that Randy needed bypass surgery. “I was just laying there and thinking an hour from now my heart is going to be stopped,” Randy says. “I had peace and assurance in my Savior going into the surgery. I very much wanted to survive though. My exclusive reason to stay on this earth was my family.”
It took him a year, but he finally recovered. Randy knew he couldn’t go back to his stressful lifestyle of running a business, so the company was sold.
He wasn’t ready to retire, so he went through a biblically-based life plan. “I had a heart’s desire to give away huge sums of money to Christian causes,” Randy says. “Maybe even head up a Christian foundation. I didn’t even know what a Christian foundation was.”
Five months later, he got a call from to see if he was interested in becoming the president of the West Michigan Christian Foundation, now National Christian Foundation West Michigan, an affiliate of NCF in Atlanta. As the largest faith-based provider of donor-advised funds in the country, the National Christian Foundation has received over $11 billion in contributions and made over $9 billion in grants to thousands of churches, ministries, and non-profits.
After 15 years of serving as the president, Randy is retiring. While he has impacted countless ministries and the people they serve, he knows his race is not yet complete.
“I want to stay active and involved,” Randy says, “and have an impact on the Kingdom. I’m 66 and you don’t know how much time you have. Enjoy each day and love those kids and grandkids.”