Pastor Jim McClain's journey to Alaska

Stacey Hartley • Jun 15, 2019 at 10:00 AM

Pastor Jim McClain of Calvary Baptist Church went from struggling to walk to the podium to walking two miles at the reservoir, immediately following a trip to Alaska.

Back in April, McClain and his wife Janice were gearing up to celebrate his niece’s wedding and his and Janice’s 47th wedding anniversary. At the same time, he was suffering from a hip injury that was so severe he could barely stand. 

“I had to sit in a chair during services and sermons. … People (at the church) had really started to notice,” said McClain, who had to use a cane, which added to the difficulty of functioning in day-to-day life.

“My wife had to help me get dressed for our anniversary,” he said. 

With the wedding coming up, the pastor resolved to push through the pain. Fortunately his niece, Rebecca Zeigler-Kowolski, was a physician’s assistant and what’s more, wouldn’t allow her uncle to go untreated. 

“Becca got with the doctors at Coordinated Health in Bethlehem, Pa. (where she worked) and asked them ‘Can you help my Uncle Jim?’”

When McClain told Ziegler-Kowolski not to worry about him with her honeymoon coming up, she said “I’m not going ‘till June.”

Ten days later, he was being scheduled for surgery. 

“She (Rebecca) was very forceful about it. I’ll tell you … I love that girl,” McClain said.

“I have to say … the girls at Fisher-Titus (Medical Center) are wonderful. I mean . . . (using a cane for) the last four weeks in church was difficult. They (physical therapy staff) got me back in shape — the difference between when I came in to when I left was night and day.”  

When it comes to hospitals, the McClains are no strangers, as his wife Janice worked as an administrative assistant of FTMC’s Carriage House for 25 years. Her position there provided health insurance for the couple that came in especially handy when Jim suffered a heart attack in 2000.

“So there was the wedding on the 12th (of April), I had the surgery on ‘tax day (April 15)’ and then we left for Alaska on May 21. And actually . . . Becca is on her honeymoon in the Caribbean right now,” McClain said.

“We — Janice and I — wouldn’t have been able to do that without her. I thank God for my niece.” 

On the way to Alaska, the McClains went through Jim’s York, Pa. hometown. While there, he ran into Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians. Arians, who began his career with the NFL in 1988, was a fellow attendee of Pa.’s York Catholic High School.

Once in Tanana, Alaska, McClain went on a sled-dog ride driven by a 2019 Iditarod hopeful. McClain said the driver reminded him of someone, but he couldn’t put his finger on it at first. 

“This guy was so knowledgeable about the Iditarod and the area we were in, so I say to him, after the ride, ‘you know you ought to have your own show.’ 

“‘I do have my own show,’ he said, ‘Life Below Zero.’ … I just thought ‘this is amazing.’ It’s Jessie Holmes.

“On top of the survival techniques he does on his show (living in harsh-weather conditions), he’s training for the Iditarod,” McClain said. 

In 2017, Holmes took fourth-place in the long-distance sled dog race competition and won Rookie of the Year his first year participating.

“So it’s been a busy five weeks,” laughed McClain.

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