Leaving Gold for God -- An interview with Sally Ward
In regular circumstances, the Holy Spirit does not speak to me audibly, but I knew I had just heard from the Lord. Those words were so clear and real to me that I had no question what had just happened.
I had not been thinking about retiring. My goal was the Olympics, and I was headed that direction-but I woke up in Paris and God told me to leave.
I was shocked. The World Championships was going to begin in a few days, and God was telling me to retire. It was not what I had been expecting, and yet I had total peace that it was what I should do. My heart accepted what my mind could not understand, and God graced me to do what He asked.
At the time, I could hardly even function physically. I had been away from home for months; I was underweight; we were all injured and working very hard. My teammate was having acupuncture in the hotel room and I was getting shots in my knee. Everything around me was chaotic and unhealthy.
I felt in my heart that I should finish the tour. I knew God was telling me to do that. So I competed that week and did my best. After the tour ended, my coach chose three of us to train with the French national team and prepare routines for the Olympics. We were not yet officially members of the Olympic team, but the intention was to prepare us for that, and all of the other girls on that tour did go on to make the Olympic team.
I returned home with my teammates, and as we said our goodbyes at the airport I could barely hold back the tears. I knew that was a true goodbye for me, but they didn't know. I wanted to tell my family first. When I returned home I sat down and told them the news. Then I called my coach. She had just been with me in Europe, and she had kept us there to train for the Olympics-and now I'm telling her that I am leaving.
Of course, "because God told me to" does not go over well with someone who is not Christian. The reaction I got from most people was just terrible. They thought I was using my faith as an excuse. They thought it was the biggest cop-out they had ever heard, that I was just tired and wanted to quit.
People don't believe that you can hear from God. But I did. I heard from God. And I was going to do what He said.
A woman from USA Gymnastics spoke with me and my coach. "Maybe you can take a break for six months," she said. "You can have a walk-on spot for the national team. If you feel like you can, then come back." People would have freaked out if they had known the offers that were being made to me. I appreciated what they were trying to do for me, but I knew it was over. I didn't know what was next, but I knew that my career in rhythmic gymnastics was finished.
Did you have a sense of why God was calling you to leave rhythmic gymnastics?
One of the greatest lessons I've learned through this experience is that when God tells you to do something, you simply do it. You don't have to know why. I am so glad I did what God told me to do. There have been other times in my life when I wanted to know why God was leading me to do something, and since God didn't show me why, I chose my own way. But with the decision to leave rhythmic gymnastics, I was so physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted that I didn't even ask why. I was numb from being a gymnastics robot. The world around me wanted to know why, but I was happy to do what God told me to do and I trusted that God had my best interests at heart.
Dr. Timothy Dalrymple is the Associate Director of Content at Patheos, and writes weekly on faith, politics, and culture for Patheos' Evangelical Portal. Follow him at his blog, Philosophical Fragments, on Facebook or on Twitter.