Champions of the Heart

I have enjoyed watching the Olympic events of the 2012 Summer Olympics this past week.  I believe the Olympics bring a healthy spirit of competition and pride for each of our countries.  I also feel that the Olympics bring a more eternal theme of unity among God's people. 

A couple of days ago I saw an excerpt aired by NBC, profiling the journey of Kerri Strug, an Arizona born gymnast who, representing the United States, competed with six other gymnasts in the 1996 Summer Olympics.  Together they formed what was endearingly termed the "Magnificent Seven."  Magnificent, because as a team they swept Russia for the team gold; a feat that had never before been accomplished.

What stood out to me in this story were the incredible odds that Kerri faced, and overcame, in order to bring home the gold for her beloved country.  With four vaults left, to be performed by Kerri and one other gymnast, the United States found themselves within a fingertip's reach of the first team gold medal ever won by the United States in this event. 

Entering the final rotation the United States had a mere 0.897 lead over Russia, leaving them vulnerable and susceptible to the historically dominant Russians in the team all around.  With the first four gymnasts landing their vaults, but not without flaw, and the 5th gymnast falling on each of her landings, the entire weight of ever winning the gold fell on the shoulders of little Kerri Strug.

I must stop here and speak a little of the character of Kerri Strug up to this point in her career.  Spoken by Kerri herself on the recent NBC interview, she painted herself as a very timid gymnast, often falling under the radar.  More often than not she would reside in the shadow of the spotlight often cast on other, more vivacious and extroverted, gymnasts.  She felt frail much of the time; scared and unsure of herself. 

Yet there were hidden embers burning within her...

As Kerri approached the vault run, one could sense trepidation in her.  She seemed feeble and apprehensive.  The crowd went crazy as she ran and vaulted herself into the air.  The atmosphere thickened with the crowd's anticipation.  Kerri, however, had under-rotated her first vault.  She landed at an odd angle, fell, and tore two ligaments in her leg.  

Pain and disappointment clouded her face.  

She was hurt, ashamed and scared.  She didn't want to continue and, looking to her coach Bela Karolyi, asked him "Do we need this (next vault)?" (Meaning do I have to go again?  Can I quit?)  Bela knew Kerri was hurting and wanted to quit, but he also knew they that their current scores did not reflect a first place position.  Looking at her, he replied "Kerri we need you to go one more time.  You need to go one more time for the gold.  You can do it!"

Tears stung my own eyesas I began to see the Savior in Bela.  

The Savior doesn't rescue us from our trials but, rather, He lifts and sustains us through them.  He doesn't give up on us but remains our greatest cheerleader, forever at our side.  

Such qualities were apparent in Bela as well, for from the sidelines he continued to scream over the crowd "You can do this Kerri!!  I believe in you!  You can do this!!"  Bela's encouragement resonated with Kerri.  She explained that in practices Bela would always tell her that she could accomplish great things that she didn't even think possible.  Bela would push her and encourage her beyond her perceived limits, and even though what he promised to her seemed impossible, she trusted him.  

She believed him.  

She believed he could see things in her that she could not see herself, and so she believed his sideline shouts of encouragement .  During the single most pivotal moment of her entire career, and likely her entire life, as the crowd screamed at a deafening decibel, all she could hear were the encouraging words of her coach: "you can do this Kerri, I believe in you," because that is the voice she chose to listen to.

And so with crushed pride and torn ligaments she again approached the vault run.   

This time she began running with new found determination.  Those embers that once burned low had grown into a great flame that burned within her.  

Courage coursed through her as she flew into the air. 

Kerri was no longer the timid and frail gymnast that she once was. But because of her willingness to not give up, and to trust, she exuding the most exquisite faith and courage.  Because of her sure trust in Bela, and belief in herself, she landed a perfect vault.

The United States had won their first Olympic gymnastic team gold.

She did it.  She believed him.  She trusted him.  

She didn't give in to the fear that was so ready to consume her.  She kept her focus and, with fierce determination, tasted the sweet flavor of success.  

Kerri is living proof that we don't have to be amazingly strong people to accomplish great goals.  We can be fearful and timid, and still overcome great obstacles.  

Our strength is not found within ourselves, our strength is found in our Savior and with Him everything is possible.

And hats off to you Kerri and Bela... together you are the greatest...

If you would like to view the NBC interview you can watch it here.


  1. He even picked her up and carried her when she could no longer walk on her own, much like the Savior does for us when we reach our breaking point. Awesome parallel.

  2. I never heard that story. Wow. Hey... isn't she the gymnast shown at the beginning of "Saturday's Warrior??"


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