Leaving Gold for God -- An interview with Sally Ward
You sacrificed a lot for your rhythmic gymnastics career, and endured a lot of hardships. Was it worth it?
The negative things that happened to me were not from God, but God turned it all around for the good. I seek to bring him glory in my life, to show how good God is. The enemy comes to kill and destroy, but Jesus came so that we can have life and have it more abundantly. Overall I'm grateful for the gifts God gave me and that I have been able to use them in the way that I have.
I'm thankful that He enabled me to travel the world and do wonderful things in the sport, and then He fully healed me of all the wounds to body and spirit. Now that I'm healed, I can look back and truly appreciate all the opportunities He gave me. And I did enjoy it. I loved working hard, training and performing. So yes, absolutely, I'm thankful for what I was able to do.
I also believe that everything I did in gymnastics was training for a lifetime of ministry. God was preparing me to travel the world and spread the good news of what He has done for us all.
Finally, what sort of advice would you offer a young gymnast who is searching for a way to express or grow in faith in the midst of a gymnastics career?
I would encourage youngsters in the sport to do work hard and strive for excellence and yet also to recognize that gymnastics is just one of many things they will do in their lives. It does not define who they are. Placing first in the standings does not make God love them any more, and placing last does not mean that God loves them any less. They should continue to work hard and enjoy the talents and opportunities God has given them, but they should remember that we are three-part beings: spirit, soul and body. Gymnastics is something we can do with our bodies. But our spirit, the inward man, is what remains even after everything else passes away.
I would also encourage young gymnasts to claim who they are in the eyes of God and not in the eyes of the world. I still love sports today. I love to teach ballet and lead clinics, but I have to remember that it all stems from who I am in God. The world wants us to believe that we must win in the world's eyes, accomplish the things the world values, in order to be valuable or accepted; the world will try to convince us to leave our relationship with God for what little time remains after we're finished pursuing the "more important" things.
My advice would be: every morning, put God first in your life. Let him make your decisions, and learn how to be led by the Holy Spirit. When we follow God first, He will lead us to green pastures and still waters. God is your direction, your comforter, and the most important thing in your life is to grow deeper and stronger in your relationship with him.
We should enjoy our careers and our hobbies, but we should not become obsessed with them. People are afraid that if they do not promote themselves, no one will, and if they do not spend every waking hour pursuing their goals, they cannot achieve them. Yet when you honor God above sports and above everything else in this world, God will promote you. If we continue to grow spiritually and give glory to God and be thankful, that will bring success.
I know that it works because I've done it. I know that God is more than faithful, and that He never leaves or forsakes us. God is the One who remains with us through it all. From the beginning of our careers to the end, in or out of sports, whether we are with our families or on the other side of the world, God is with us always.
After retiring from rhythmic gymnastics, Sally Ward attended high school and graduated from bible school in 2001. Touring with Girls of Grace, and speaking at events for teens and troubled youth, she has taught and shared her testimony before thousands of young people. She is presently a youth minister at Word of Faith Christian Center in Round Rock, Texas, under Bishop Keith A. Butler. She has taught at the Bible Training Center in Round Rock and remains a motivational speaker.
This appears together with other articles and interviews, including interviews with Samantha Peszek, Dominique Moceanu and Stephen McCain, on Gymnastics, Faith and Olympic Glory.
Timothy Dalrymple edits the Evangelical Portal at Patheos.
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.