Running for His Glory
By James Meredith
July 29, 2012
Sanya Richards-Ross isn’t alone when she cites Philippians 4:13 as her life verse. For this world-class sprinter, however, the promise of Christ’s empowerment holds manifold significance.
Ross is no stranger to the world of athletic success at its highest levels. In 2010, she married NFL cornerback Aaron Ross, who won two Super Bowls in five years with the New York Giants before signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars as a free agent last March.
Yet over the past decade, Ross has distinguished herself as one of the best sprinters on the planet. In the 400-meter dash — her premiere event — she has recorded more finishes under 50 seconds than any woman in history. She holds the American record for that distance, at 48.70 seconds. Competing in both the 400- and 4x400-meter relays, Ross has amassed six world championships, to go with numerous American titles.
Twice Ross has displayed her talents on track and field’s biggest stage — the Olympics — with historic results. After winning gold in 2004, Ross again joined the women’s 4x400 relay team as it sought to defend against a tough Russian squad in Beijing. Running the anchor leg, Ross found herself trailing Russian Anastasia Kapachinskaya by several meters as the baton was passed. The lead held through the backstretch and into the final turn.
Suddenly, with less than 100 meters to go, Ross gave an amazing burst of speed. At 25 meters she caught the surprised Russian, passing Kapachinskaya with seeming ease to win by over a meter. The unforgettable performance earned Ross a permanent place in the pages of Olympic lore. (Running the second leg of that gold medal relay was Allyson Felix, featured in the sidebar to the right.)
Amid the successes, however, Ross is careful to keep things in proper perspective. “My faith keeps me grounded,” she says. “I know that it’s only God who gives me the strength to accomplish these things.”
Ross’ words are especially significant in a sport that has seen its history too often marred by stories of athletes attempting to take shortcuts via doping. Against this backdrop, Ross has established herself as an athlete who’s risen to the top the right way, living out an example of character as well as excellence.
And while, in her words, Ross doesn’t try to “overwhelm people” with her faith, she’s not shy about putting her Christian beliefs in plain sight.
“Most of the people I associate with … know how strong my faith is,” she says. “I have had experiences where I had to explain what it means to be a Christian to friends who aren’t Christians, but I enjoy those opportunities and only hope to be an example for them.”
Ross has had her share of disappointments, struggles and frustrations. As 2010 began, she had just experienced the most successful 18 months of her career. Then in April she was sidelined with a quadriceps injury.
Ross also struggles with Behcet’s disease, a rare and incurable malady that causes symptoms such as mouth and skin lesions. These issues and others ultimately cost Ross the entire 2010 season.
For a driven, world-class athlete at the height of her career, a year of down time might lead to depression and despair. But Ross chooses to see challenges as opportunities to learn from God.
“I’ve learned that God is always on time!” she says. “Things happen that we can’t understand, and we think God has forgotten about us. But that is never true. We must go through different seasons to appreciate when God is working everything out for us. In the meantime, we must thank God in all things.”
This attitude of optimism and trust has served Ross well, through the valleys as well as on the mountaintops. She rebounded in 2011, resuming her place on the American 4x400 relay team and adding to her collection of world championships in the process.
As the 2012 season moves forward — and London arrives — Ross is again peaking at the right time. She’s already taken the U.S. and world championships in the 400-meter run, as well as a second-place finish in the 4x400 at worlds. Olympic glory is again within reach.
Ross is still compelled by a much higher calling. When the glory is directed toward God, obstacles become irrelevant, struggles are conquered, and triumphs are held in their proper perspective. Ross is making Christ her highest goal in the race of life, and she encourages others to follow in those footsteps.
“Continue believing and trusting in Christ,” she says. “He will never leave you or forsake you.”
At 18 years of age, many young women are anticipating high school graduation, poring over college catalogs, and only beginning to think about where the course of their lives might lead. For Allyson Felix, however, age 18 marked her emergence as a world-class sprinter.
Having won the first of what would become five U.S. championships in the 200-meter dash, Felix headed to Athens for the 2004 Olympics. There she would capture a silver medal in the event. Felix won gold in the 4x400-meter relay in Beijing.
Such circumstances translated to large doses of fame — something that would threaten to twist the perspective of any young person. The athletic maturity displayed by Felix, however, was matched by a strong, seasoned faith in Christ.
Felix had a firm grasp on the recipe for real success, saying in 2004, “I pray a lot. I always take time to spend in the Word, just talking to God — and I run for His glory.”
That God-centered perspective is rooted in a walk with Christ that began in childhood. Felix was raised in a devoutly Christian home; her father is a minister and seminary professor, and her mother, a third-grade teacher. As a result, faith in God and respect for others crafted her worldview from the beginning. Her Christ-centered upbringing is evidenced in the gracious and humble demeanor she displays amid the competitive world of athletics.
Felix is committed to keeping her success in perspective. “My running is a gift from God,” she says. “My success is not of myself. I know that my actions on and off the track should be a reflection of God, because people watch what you do and what you say.”
As Felix competes in her third Olympics — and hopes for glory once again — the world will indeed be watching.
JAMES MEREDITH is technical editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.
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