Florida man, Almon Gunter Jr. has a new challenge for you this Valentine's Day. The track and field star, turned motivational speaker want you to take the #loveletterchallenge.

It came to him at 3 a.m.

Almon Gunter Jr. of Jacksonville woke up early one morning. He pondered society's ills, such as crime and illegal drug distribution, and decided lack of self-love was the root of those ills.

"It just kind of hit me," he said. "People just don't like themselves. People can't treat others as they should be treated if they don't treat themselves as they should. How can you give out love if you don't love yourself?"

Gunter, a track and field star turned motivational speaker and executive consultant, came up with a simple idea. People should take a look in the mirror, self-evaluate and write down the good stuff.

Operation Love Letter was born.

"I'm just one of the love guys," Gunter said.

ACCEPT YOURSELF

A Baldwin native, Gunter was a two-time U.S. Olympic trial qualifier in track and field. He competed internationally and ran the 13th-fastest time in the world for 200 meters.

Now CEO and president of Almon Gunter Motivates Inc., he is a motivational and inspirational public speaker, consultant and author of four self-help books. For 20 years he has trained and mentored about 1,000 athletes in eight different sports at the collegiate and professional levels.

Gunter started his Operation Love letter initiative Feb. 1, just in time for Valentine's Day and his 55th birthday the day after. He posted the Love Letter Challenge on his website — complete with directions. He wants each letter-writer to challenge five other people to look in the mirror as well. He wants them to take it to their school friends and work colleagues.

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Meanwhile, Gunter practices what he preaches.

"Dear Almon," he wrote in his latest personal love letter, penned Feb. 1. "I love the way you respect yourself. Because of the respect you have for yourself it has been easy for you to respect others. … I love that you don't point fingers when things go differently than you planned. You simply dig in and find a way to learn from it."

Such self-appreciation, Gunter said, can improve how a person interacts with others.

"When people look and feel the way they want to look and feel, they're kinder," he said.

Writing oneself a love letter can be easier said than done, Gunter said, recounting the experience of Aaron Harris, a former University of South Florida defensive linemen and one of the athletes he mentors.

Harris tried letter after letter. "He kept wadding up paper and throwing it away. But he kept at it," Gunter said.

Eventually, self-love broke through.

"After several failed attempts, I finally wrote myself what I like to call an untraditional love letter," Harris said. "In my letter I focused on accepting me for who I am, removing all negative energy and shining light on my positive attributes."

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Gunter cautioned letter writers not to let one less-than-stellar attribute block the process.

"It is important … to accept your flaws and imperfections," he said. "Know what you're never going to be … but don't talk yourself out of your dreams."

Beth Reese Cravey: (904) 359-4109

This story was originally written for and published on jacksonville.com.