Run The Race Hard and the Last Shall be First
With the Olympic Games just a couple of weeks away, athletes from around the globe will be descending on London, England, to compete in feats of endurance to determine the best in a multitude of categories. You’re going to hear the word “gold” a lot in the next month, that elusive medal that requires the utmost mettle from the runners, jumpers, and swimmers from all points of the compass. You’re going to hear the words “endurance” and “perseverance” and phrases such as “overcame the odds” and “spirit of the Olympics.”
Inspire. Hope. Win. Sportsmanship.
I love the Olympics. My earliest Olympic memory goes back to 1976 in Montreal. I remember the fierce high jump competition between American Dwight Stones and Canadian Greg Joy and the perfect “10” score of Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci. My brothers and I set up a high jump pit in the back yard and jumped like Stones and Joy for hours.
Who can forget Jamaican Usain Bolt sprinting the 100 meters in world record time in 2008 or American Kerri Strug’s 1996 gold-medal winning jump on vault with a sprained ankle? Then there was Derek Redmond, who is often named as subject of one of the most inspirational Olympic moments. In the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, Redmond hoped to win the gold medal for Great Britain. It wasn’t to be. With 250 meters to go in the 400-meters semi-final, his hamstring snapped. The dream had ended, it seemed. Not for Redmond, though. Crying, he stood up again, attempting to finish the race on one leg. His father, watching from the sidelines, jumped onto the track to help his son. At first Derek tried to push him away, not realizing it was his father. But then his father said, “Derek, it’s me.” He put his son’s arm around his own shoulders and said, “We’ll finish together.” (Click here for the picture.)
But never mind the Olympics. Inspiration comes at all levels. Take Meghan Vogel, a high school junior who this spring exemplified sportsmanship seldom seen in competition. A competitor, Arden McMath, had collapsed on the track near the end of the 3200-meter race when Vogel, already in last place in the race, came upon her. Instead of speeding past her, Vogel stopped, put McMath’s arms around her shoulders, and helped her finish the race. That would have been story enough, but at the finish line, Meghan Vogel did something even more amazing. She took McMath’s arm off her shoulder and put McMath in front of herself as they crossed the finish line. She allowed Arden McMath to finish ahead of her. (Click here for the article and video).
The author of Hebrews had a thing or two to say about running the race. This being Olympic season, make Hebrews 12:1-4 your theme for the next few weeks as you watch marathoners limp into the stadium; as you see exhausted swimmers reach for the pool deck; as you sit anxiously awaiting the pop of the starter’s pistol as the runners raise themselves out of the starting blocks. Let these images help you see your own life as a Christian more clearly as you run your own race and as you reflect on the race Jesus ran for our sakes so many years ago:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin” (NLT).
The image of Meghan Vogel holding Arden McMath in front of her as she crossed the finish line flies in the face of the competitive world brought to us by ESPN and Sports Illustrated. But it should be an inspiration for all of us in our life’s race.
She may have been last, but she’s first in my books. The Gospel of Matthew had a thing or two to say about first and last!
Ron DeBoer is an educator and writer living near Toronto.