Leaving Gold for God -- An interview with Sally Ward
It's a happy ending for me. I believe that God has called me to share my testimony with people all over the world. I'm fortunate enough to have found that I am complete in Him alone. Everyone is made to be. So I'm happy to bring that freedom to other people.
Now that you've described the beginning and end of your career, can you tell us how your commitment to Christ shaped your life and behavior as a gymnast?
It affected everything I did. I was a young girl when I began to compete as a rhythmic gymnast, just growing in my faith and trying to understand who I was in God. The world sought to shape my identity and label me according to my accomplishments. Yet I knew that wasn't the real me.
I still had a lot of maturing to do, but I loved God and wanted to do everything I did for Him. When I focused on that, it encouraged me. The competition mattered, but it didn't really matter, because the important thing was that I was doing it unto the Lord. That really helped. What I do or how I rank in relation to other people does not make me who I am. Who I am is in Christ and because of what Christ did for me. God loves us not because of what we've done in our life, but because he made us His children.
My faith grew a lot in those years. The more I grew in God's love and learned about Him, the more it helped. The Holy Spirit taught me how to focus and to rest in Him. Some gymnasts were more talented than I in certain areas-some were more flexible or did better tricks. Some people around the country were probably better than I was in practice, but in the competition I knew the Holy Spirit would help me focus and perform well.
Yet it took time to learn how to do that. In my first international competition, I was in a different country without my family, and I blew it. But learning how to access my faith and bring the supernatural into the natural realm was very important. The Holy Spirit taught me how to do that, and the peace the Holy Spirit brings is unshakable.
My faith also helped me keep my integrity. There's a lot of backbiting in rhythmic gymnastics. There are worldly attitudes and politics and turf battles. There are times when I didn't act in the way that Jesus would have acted, and that's part of growing up. But the more I learned about God and yielded to the Holy Spirit, the more my faith helped me to develop relationships and be a friend to people, and to keep my focus on God. People change, things change, but God never changes. God brought peace and stability and strength. My confidence is in Him.
Faith takes the pressure off. That's the biggest thing. I wish I would have understood that more at the time, but the more I focused on doing my gymnastics unto God, the more that helped me realize that living for God is all that matters.
Did God work through your sport to mature you as a believer?
I believe that God gave me a talent and I was made to use it for Him. It was not really the sport of rhythmic gymnastics that helped me; it was God that helped me. God allowed me to use the talent He gave me to glorify Him and lift up His name. I worked my hardest and did my best up until the time I knew, in my heart, that it was over, and God had a different path for me.
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.