The Faith of Four U.S. Women Olympians
The 2012 Olympic games are approaching quickly. This Friday, more than 10,000 athletes will gather in London to celebrate athleticism and competition in 26 sports. While the hype of an event like this may drive athletes to revel in the spotlight, others find it’s the best avenue for an intimate connection with God.
At this year’s games, the United States boasts a plethora of athletes, but alongside incredible athleticism, some are gaining attention for their personal faith.
Allyson Felix — 100m and 200m sprint
One of the buzziest stars this year is Allyson Felix, a 26-year-old from Los Angeles who will represent the U.S. in the 100m and 200m sprints. Back in 2004, Felix was featured in Christianity Today’s young adult publication Campus Life. Here, the then 18-year-old was hailed as “the fastest teen on the planet.” Though she beamed with recognition at a young age, she made it a point to change the spotlight. “My speed is a gift from God,” she said in 2004. “I run for [God’s] glory. Whatever I do, it all comes from [God].”
Eight years later, the story remains the same, albeit in a more articulate, thoughtful manner. "I understand why the journey is more important than the medals," she tells The Guardian. "I’m currently a work in progress and, like anyone else, I face struggles every day. My goal is to be more Christ-like each and every day, and that is not an easy task. I know that I’m trying to be something different from [other Olympic runners] and after I run I hope that people can distinguish [Christ-like] character in the way I present myself."
Brittany Viola — 10 m platform dive
In 2006, Brittany Viola had bulimia, which caused her to spend time at an eating disorder facility in Arizona. At Remuda Ranch that summer, her life changed as she encountered Jesus and later became a Christian. That fall, as a freshman at the University of Miami, she fell back into her old habits.
Her life didn’t make a radical shift until a year later, when one of her diving teammates invested herself into Brittany’s life. “[That’s when] transformation began to take root,” she tells Beliefnet’s Chad Bonham. “In all that I did, I had purpose to work with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength… I did not have to go after my pursuits alone.”
Though she continued to struggle with bulimia, she saw light shining in the darkness. “I would be reminded that God still loved me even when I did not love myself. [God’s] forgiveness helped me to forgive myself,” she says.
In 2011, after fighting an eating disorder and undergoing two ankle surgeries Viola emerged and won the 2011 U.S. National Diving Championship, where the healthy athlete credited her recovery and success to God. “Through faith and taking God’s Word as truth, I have performed and accomplished more than I could have ever hoped for or imagined,” she says.
Jennifer Nichols — archery
Jennifer Nichols is a three-time Olympian whose routine sport is infused with a spiritual discipline: in between archery shots she memorizes bible verses. “I carry a little book in my quiver that has Bible verses that I memorize as I'm walking back and forth to the target,” she says in USA Today. “And sometimes I'll recite them while I'm on the line shooting. It plays a large part [in my routine].”
The study of scripture, she says, helps her to refocus on her priorities, on what’s important; that the success of a medal isn’t about her, but it’s about bringing glory to God. She isn’t sure how this year’s games will go, but shares that, “when my mind is kept on God, through scripture, [God] keeps me at peace.”
Chaunte Lowe — high jump
Chaunte Lowe holds both the indoor and outdoor record for the U.S. women’s high jump. She placed 6th in the women’s high jump at the 2008 Olympics in Bejing. And since then, she broke the U.S. record twice in 2010, leaving it slated at a leap of 6 feet 8 ¾ inches.
She tells USA Today that she doesn’t just work her muscles on the track, but that her record-breaking smiles and graceful strides on the field are filled with holiness. “Whenever you see me smiling and dancing, I'm praising the Lord, and that's really where I get a lot of my praise and worship in is right there on the high-jump apron,” she says.
Joshua Witchger is an online assistant at Sojourners.