CROTON-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. -- Anthony Stephens, the pastor at Our Saviour Evangelical Lutheran Church in Croton-on-Hudson, wears a variety of other hats. On Sunday, he will put on his competitor’s cap when he races in the TOUGHMAN Half, a 70.3 mile triathlon that trots past his church.
“I’m looking for excuses to stay fit and raise money for appropriate concerns,’’ said Stephens, who will raise money for the church’s response to the Ebola epidemic.
Stephens, 52, has served as the church’s pastor since 2002 and has competed in the TOUGHMAN three previous times. He is also an avid runner, and has completed 13 marathons.
His work as a pastor and recreational pursuits only tell part of Stephens’ extraordinary story, however. He is an attorney, developmental psychologist and National Guard chaplain. He served three months in Afghanistan and five months overall with the National Guard in 2012 to help soldiers as they prepared to re-integrate into society.
“It’s an occupational hazard of being a reservist,’’ Stephens said. “I was activated during Superstorm Sandy and helped out with relief efforts in the Rockaways and Red Hook. I came back and they said guess what, now you’re off to Afghanistan. It was a big surprise. I thought I was too old to deploy.”
Stephens saw a spate of rocket attacks during his Afghanistan deployment. Using his skills as a licensed psychotherapist, he helped soldiers prepare for the re-entry to civilian life.
“I met with soldiers who were very anxious about a lot of things,’’ Stephens said. “They were drawn to me like moths to a flame. They asked questions like what do I do with this custody problem or this housing problem. I certainly got more than I bargained more when I signed up for the reserves. But I loved being deployed. I had a great esprit de corps with the soldiers. There was a common sense of mission and dependency that you don’t find in the civilian world.”
Stephens’ military service was one of the many twists in an extraordinary life. The native of England came to the United States in 1986. Before entering the ministry, Stephens worked as an engineer on supertankers and mega yachts, and also worked on sailboats in the Caribbean.
While working on the requirements for his ordination as a pastor in California, he also worked as a jail chaplain. He served a congregation in Western New York before coming to Our Saviour.
His competitive athletic pursuits went on hiatus while he was stationed in Afghanistan, but he still managed to exercise. “I ran around the Kandahar air field,’’ Stephens said. “If I went all the way around the perimeter, I could do 11 miles. Not everybody was happy to see me doing that. I got shouted at a lot.”
Stephens ran in the New York City Marathon last year, and a 50-kilometer race earlier this year. He will race in the TOUGHMAN event for the first time in three years.
Church congregation members will cheer him on. They staff a hydration station that is part of the course for the race, which includes a 1.2 mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and 13.1 mile run.
“They have a good time and it’s a good community event,’’ Stephens said. “When you’re going up Route 129 and you see members of your congregation, it takes away the temptation to walk.”