God at the Olympics

Other than praying before every competition as a team, there were a lot of little things that mattered to me.  My favorite Bible verse was Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." 

People laugh at me now when I tell them that I don't handle pressure well.  They say, "How can you say that?  You were in the biggest pressure situation anybody could ever be in, trying to qualify to the Olympics."  But it really is true.  I do not handle pressure well, and my answer for everyone is that I didn't have to handle the pressure.  I went out and got to do what I loved, and I took the pressure off my shoulders and trusted God instead.

At the Olympics, one of my teammates had a bit of a breakdown about three minutes before we had to march out.  I stood her up and said, "You know what?  We have worked so hard for this.  Not it's time to enjoy it and trust God." 

As the team captain, I wasn't the most physically talented.  I didn't have the best skills and wasn't going to score the highest.  I had six amazing teammates.  But that was the kind of leadership I could bring to our team.  I could encourage my teammates that faith and trust in God can take some of the pressure away from the expectations of what team USA could do that year, and I could help them focus instead on simply doing what we love.

What was it like when you first arrived at the Olympics?  What did it feel like?

The most stressful thing in my career was the Olympic Trials.  When I qualified for the Olympics, the original feeling was that I did it, and I can't wait to get there. 

We didn't stay in the traditional Olympic village.  We stayed off campus.  Being in our home country, we had some perks.  But in general, the minute I got there, I wasn't there for 3 hours before I called home, homesick.  My parents couldn't believe it.  "You've got to be kidding," they said.  "You've waited all your life for this, and you want to come home already?"

I just got nervous, and when I get nervous I want to be around my parents.  The entire situation was filled with pressure, because you feel this extraordinary pride to represent your country, something you have never felt before.  I had been to three World Championships, and I had competed all around the world representing the United States.  But when you are on the Olympic team, it feels like the entire country is counting on you.

I remember walking to the Georgia Dome, and when we were still outside, the minute people saw the red, white and blue, they started chanting USA, USA!  I thought to myself, "Why do they think we can do this?"  The sense of pressure was overwhelming.  And even in the minute we stepped inside the arena for practice, we weren't even competing and yet the entire place was going crazy.

So there was a lot of pressure.  I was 19, and that's considered old in the sport, but it's not that old when you consider how much pressure it was.  I think you get into this mode.  I have this really special connection with my coach.  We could just make eye contact, and it got me back into my zone of just doing what I do and trusting God.  It didn't matter if she was standing next to me or fifty feet away.  It got my into my zone of doing what you do, have fun, and trust God with the rest.

When you won the gold medal in Atlanta and realized your lifelong dream, did that resonate for you on a spiritual level?

I describe it as seeing my whole life up until then, the whole journey that had brought me there, running in slow motion.  When people watch the Olympics, and even when I watch the Olympics now, it's easy to think about that moment, standing on the podium and receiving the gold medal.  None of that is a big part of my memory of those Olympics.  For me, it was all about the journey.

You know, I have the opportunity to go around the country still and talk to kids about my experiences.  The big thing I always tell them is that I had faith in God's plan.   For that reason, it made the journey so incredible. 

2/25/2010 5:00:00 AM
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