Leaving Gold for God -- An interview with Sally Ward
Yes, viewing the situation naturally, I was weary. And there was a sense of relief in my heart when I retired, because I was exhausted but also because I was following God's will. I had full confidence that I had made the right decision -- and nothing else mattered. Let the world reject me. I am the only one who has to go to sleep every night at peace with what I do. I'm the one who answers to God. Nobody else.
So whether other people liked it or not, it was not I who made the decision. God made the decision for me, and I was just being obedient.
Now, looking back, I can see that God saved me from a lot of ugliness. Making the Olympic Team is not everything. Back then, in the natural way of thinking, I certainly thought it was everything. When you're a gymnast, that's your whole identity, your life. It's what you do, what you breathe, eat and sleep. That's gymnastics. The clothes on your back, the patch on your shoulder, the logo on your leotard, they all declare your identity as a gymnast. You do home school in order to train. You leave your family in order to train. You wake up and go to practice; you go to sleep, and get up and go back to practice. That's the life of a gymnast.
God graced me to make that decision and walk it out. Then the real world hit me like a ton of bricks. There was a supernatural grace that helped me out of rhythmic gymnastics, but then I had to deal with all the consequences and the unhealthiness that I had absorbed in the rhythmic world. It was very hard. I got suicidal. There was a lot of counseling and I had to recover from having my whole identity in something that was now gone.
So it's not as though I made the decision, and everything worked out perfectly. But I've never had a second thought about retiring. If there are two decisions I'm completely convinced I made the right way, they're the decision to get saved and the decision to leave gymnastics when I did. I can bank on that. God made it so abundantly clear for me, and it had to be that clear in order for me to leave. That's why God made it so apparent, because He knew that was what it would take. Other than God telling me to leave, nothing could have made me do it.
Was it difficult to leave gymnastics behind?
I missed my teammates deeply. They were like sisters to me. As far as the sport goes, I was done and didn't look back -- but the world looked back for me. To the rest of the world, it seemed as though my life were over. To me, my life was just beginning. Obviously God had something else for me to do.
I had moved out of an old world into a new world. I had not been to a movie in five years. I had no idea how to be a teenager. It was bizarre and difficult. I had followed God, but everyone other than my parents seemed disappointed. It seemed as though I had lost any value in other people's eyes. I felt alone and isolated, as though nobody loved or was proud of me except for God. Eventually I wanted to kill myself, because I felt so alone, as though no one cared about my life if I was not going to be a gymnast anymore.
That's when I started cutting myself. I cut some in gymnastics, but I really got into it afterward. I also had eating disorders and depression. But I just continued to go through the years, reading the Word and going to church, growing spiritually and learning who I really was. I had to learn that it's a lie of the world that you are what you do. I had to learn that God makes us who we are, that I am God's daughter and there is no higher position in the family of God. Searching that out was the only way I got free from all those things.
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.