The London Summer Olympics are officially over. No more NBC tape delays. No more ill-timed WWII historical documentaries. No more inexplicable Ryan Seacrest sightings. And…most regrettably…no more daily doses of dreams-really-do-come-true stories from athletes around the world. I find myself feeling a bit sad and somewhat lost. Who is going to inspire me on a daily basis now?
Although it’s been a while since an athlete with Type 1 diabetes battled for gold. (Remember swimmer Gary Hall, Jr. who won 10 Olympic medals, including five gold medals, three silver medals, and two bronze medals? He was just inducted into the U.S. Olympics Hall of Fame this year.) There were many other 2012 Olympic athletes who touched my heart and taught me a faith lesson or two. Here are my top 10 spiritually thought-provoking athletes from the 2012 Summer Olympics:
1. Jordyn Weiber – God doesn’t pick favorites
It was gut-wrenching to watch Jordyn’s reaction to the knowledge that she would not compete in the All-Around Gold Medal competition. The IOC rules seemed so unfair. How could God let her dream fade away in front of millions of people? But the real truth is this…God doesn’t favor the outcome of any one competitor over the other. For every tear she cried in London, there were many girls still at home crying buckets of tears because they didn’t make the Fab 5 gymnastics team. Sometimes…life just doesn’t seem fair…but you have to go on anyway.
2. Ali Raisman – Always be ready to shine your own light
Fourth place. That’s what she got in the All-Around competition, and then again in the Beam competition. Or so it seemed until she won the tiebreaker and received the Beam bronze medal instead. I loved watching her coach file a protest with only seconds to spare. The whole time this craziness is going on, Katy Perry’s “Firework” is playing in the background. Ali had to step up moments later and deliver the floor routine of her lifetime. Do you think the lyrics inspired her gold medal high-flying performance on the floor exercise?
“You just gotta ignite the light and let it shine
Just own the night like the 4th of July
‘Cause baby, you’re a firework
Come on, show ‘em what you’re worth
Make ‘em go, oh oh oh
As you shoot across the sky”
3. Allyson Felix – Having faith means never stop believing
First, there really needs to be a Morgan-Freeman-Tells-The-Story-Of-Your-Life app available on iTunes. (There’s not because I looked.) It was only from the Visa ad that I learned Allyson missed winning an individual gold medal in the 200M race to Veronica Campbell twice—in 2004 and 2008. Just hundredth’s of a second separated her each time from Campbell. How did she find the faith in herself to go through all those grueling days of training, Olympic trials, then the heats to get to the finals one more time in 2012? I guess she just never stopped believing, which is really what faith is all about.
4. Oscar Pistorius – Spirit is stronger than the physical body
Here is a man born with no legs who goes on to not only compete in the Olympics…but makes it to the semi-finals in the individual 400M competition and anchor the relay team in the same distance. No fibula from birth and he goes on to achieve an [almost] impossible dream. If that doesn’t illustrate the verse, “with God all things are possible” I don’t know what does.
5. Sanya Richards-Ross – Letting go is the key
I loved Sanya’s story because it perfectly illustrates a spiritual truth that I struggle with daily—letting go. When she ran her 400m race in 2008, she started too fast and fell behind in the final straight to end up with the bronze medal. This time a lot of her training had to do with her mind. She knew that even if it looked like she was behind, if she ran her race in the flow, she would have that boost of power when she needed it most. That’s kind of like life. I’m always trying to do things on my own power, fearful that I won’t be able to complete the race. All I really need to do is relax…run at my own perfect pace…and let the Holy Spirit give me the extra boost of supernatural power when I need it most.
6. Sarah Robles – Spiritual wealth is not a stipend
I don’t know much about this weight lifter competitor, other than the fact that she almost broke my heart when she said she lived off a $400 stipend and sometimes had to eat canned beans and less than healthy food for training because that is all she could afford. Fortunately, the little bit of publicity she gained from the Olympics spotlight has helped her find a sponsor. She may not have a fat bank account, but she has a heart of pure gold.
7. Mo Farah – Cost of being a champion is high
This long distance runner has a smile and an inner light that could illuminate the entire Olympic stadium. When he was running the last few seconds of the 5,000M race, I was jumping and screaming with the rest of the crowd. I know he gave up a lot to reach that moment—moving to Oregon and choosing to only “eat, sleep and run.” Sometimes being the leader…whether it’s in front of a group of world class distance runners, your country, or even your cubicle at work…requires sacrifice. No one ever said the journey would be easy.
8. Michael Phelps – The last will be first
When Michael Phelps finished fourth in that first race he may as well have come in last. I immediately jumped on the Ryan Lochte bandwagon and believed the hype (did you see Lochte rolling giant tires?) But Phelps came back strong with his superior talents and made Olympic history. What I learned from him is that it doesn’t matter how you start, it’s how you finish. And wow, did he finish strong.
9. David Boudia – Grace means getting to start over
10-meter platform diving. First, I have no idea how anyone gets the courage to jump off that platform, much less do intricate, twisting maneuvers (sometimes begun by doing a handstand on the edge of the platform)! I was amazed by all of the divers’ courage. But Boudia exemplified an even bigger spiritual truth. Through God’s grace, we all get to start with a clean slate. Boudia was 18th after the first round of diving…barely even made it to the semi-finals. But in diving, previous scores don’t carry over. You start fresh. And with that new beginning, he went on to dramatically win the gold medal. “You can get really overwhelmed with a lot of different things,” Boudia said. “Knowing that I’m not in control of what happens has been just so peaceful and content in my heart.”
10. Gabby Douglas – Listen to the children
After all was said and done…my very favorite faith lesson moment from the Olympics happened after Gabby Douglas won the gold medal in the All-Around competition. With the entire world looking on, she took that moment in time to praise God when she said, “God has given me this awesome talent to represent Him. Glory goes up to Him, and the blessings fall down on us.” What a profound and inspirational witness she gave in two short sentences. I guess teenagers really do know everything.
The world loves to be inspired. Inspiration can be defined literally as breathing in. Could the Holy Spirit be connected to the word inspiration? The ancient Hebrew and Greek words for spirit were the root word that meant breath. In other words, our spirit (or life) is sustained by breathing or inspiration.
In the same sense, the ideas and motivations stimulated within our mind can be in a sense breathed in…inspirational thoughts just happen. They are a by-product resulting from our very own life force (or spirit). In my mind, inspiration and Spirit are one in the same. When we are inspired it’s like the Holy Spirit tugging on our hearts saying yes…you can achieve great things or overcome great obstacles in your own life, too. Let me help you.
I will miss the Olympics…and the athletes…and their stories. But most of all, I will miss breathing in that daily dose of connection to a world of possibilities. If I learned anything from London, it’s not to wait around four years to make something happen. I have the power to begin today. Thank you Olympic athletes…may the next four years shine brightly on all of you.