Michell Akers, a star of the USA women’s soccer team that just won the World Cup, tells her story about how she and her team-mates won Olympic Gold:
The Olympic podium is a moment many dream about. It is exactly as you imagine it. Almost surreal. Extremely emotional. Tears. Laughter. Disbelief. Joy. All at once and all overwhelming. A friend told me that when she watched me on TV, it was almost as if she were intruding: It was such an intimate moment. She was right. It was like I was standing up there with God. I knew that I hadn’t accomplished this goal on my own. I knew that it was Him working in me.
My first thought when they placed that gold medal around my neck was, Wow! That’s heavy, then, Wow! That’s shiny, and finally, Wow! This is MINE. Then they played our national anthem. Whoa. I had watched so many other athletes sing their anthems and often wondered how I would react. What would I do if I won? I put my hand on my chest, found the American flag atop the stadium, struggled not to cry, and belted it out!
After the ceremony, I returned to the training room to load up on intravenous fluid for re-hydration while my teammates went to the post-game party. I didn’t arrive at the event until 3 a.m. and was too sick to celebrate, but it didn’t matter. I had what I wanted, and the people I love most were with me. It was incredible to win the gold medal. But even more incredible was my journey with God and the bumpy and long road I traveled to get to the podium.
As a kid, I was a typical tomboy. I sported my No. 75 “Mean” Joe Greene Pittsburgh Steelers jersey and dreamed of catching the winning touchdown at the Super Bowl. I hated to lose. Even if I lost in Monopoly, I got mad. When I was eight my mom signed me up for soccer. We lost a lot at first and I begged my mom to let me quit. She refused. Plus our uniforms were pink and yellow. Girlie colors-the worst!
Soon enough, I fell in love with the game. I thought I’d grow up to be a pro soccer player in Europe or a paramedic. Unfortunately, I had also become the epitome of a rebellious teenager: skipping school, dating older guys, experimenting with drugs, lying. My parents’ divorce only added to my adolescent confusion. The only person I really talked to about my life was a soccer coach at school, Mr. Kovats. I was intrigued by him and why he was so excited about being a Christian. And why was he so happy? Mr. Kovats definitely knew something I didn’t.
One day after practice, Mr. Kovats drove me home. We sat in his rusted-out, lime-green pick-up truck for the millionth time and talked. This time I cried my heart out. I hated who I was becoming, what I was doing to my family, and what was going on inside. I was angry. I was sad. I was confused. I knew I needed something. Or someone. I told Mr. Kovats that I wanted what he had: a relationship with God.
I was afraid of what the kids at school would think if I became a Christian, but it wasn’t the real reason I hesitated. I was just plain scared. Since my parents’ divorce, I found it difficult to trust-and now to hope that what Mr. Kovats said about Jesus iving me joy was almost too much. If I committed to this and it didn’t work out . . . Well, that just seemed too much to risk.
But this time I was at the end of my rope. I was desperate, alone and afraid. We bowed our heads and I repeated a prayer Mr. Kovats said to begin a relationship with Christ. Immediately, I felt a rush of peace inside. A physical feeling of warmth. I took a deep breath, and all the fear, confusion and worry left me. Something had happened, but what? From that moment forward, I was a different person. Nothing anyone would notice at first, but in time, that moment became a turning point in who I was and how I lived my life. It didn’t take long, however, before I forgot all that Christ had done for me. I received a scholarship to college, was a four-time All-American, won a World Cup in 1991 and was named the best player in the world. I got married, traveled the globe and became the first woman player to have a paid endorsement. I had the world at my fingertips. Then in 1994, after three years of battling extreme fatigue and illness, I hit rock bottom. I couldn’t manage to get out of bed and brush my teeth, nevertheless run and play soccer. Migraines racked my head while I sweated through three tee-shirts a night. Finally, I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS). On top of all that, my four-year marriage ended. I was sick, alone and disillusioned with life.
Even though I couldn’t put it into words at the time, I had a feeling I needed to get things right with God. I hadn’t spent much time thinking about spiritual things since I was in high school and Mr. Kovats introduced me to his faith in Christ. I still went to church on Easter and Christmas, but I didn’t bring religion into my daily life. God was definitely not a part of my marriage nor my soccer career. I made my own decisions and dealt with the consequences; and I thought I had done a pretty good job. Until now.
I was so sick I couldn’t take a five-minute walk without needing two days on the couch to recover. I was forced to spend a lot of time thinking about who I was. That was the hardest thing. I couldn’t distract myself with soccer or friends because I was so ill. I was forced to look at my life. I didn’t like what I saw.
At that point, I was glad to give God anything He wanted. “You can have this stuff,” I said. “You can have this body. You can have this life. You can have me. Because I’ve made a mess of everything.”
I began attending church again and learning more about Christ. I think I knew deep down that my focus had been wrong for a great many years, but I feared being a “spiritual nut”: What would my friends, fans and the world think of me? Me-the tough, independent athlete-reading the Bible and giving up control. My other worry was this: How could I still enjoy life, be a fun person, and also follow God? So many rules and so many high expectations.
Looking back, I think God was gently, patiently tapping me on the shoulder and calling my name for years. But I continuously brushed him off, saying, “Hey, I know what I am doing. I can make these decisions. Leave me alone.” Then I think He finally said, “OK,” crossed his arms and looked at me sadly-because he knew I was going to make a lot of mistakes by ignoring Him. He knew I would be hurting in the future.
It took total devastation before I would acquiesce and say, “OK, God. You can have my life.” It took everything crashing down before I came crawling back to God, pleading, “Please, help me.”
But it wasn’t a punishment. I am not bitter about any of my struggles. They were a wake-up call. Some people take a tap on the shoulder; I needed a sledgehammer to the head! God was saying to me, “Pay attention! This is important! Rely on me and I will give you what you need.”
All those fears about rules and giving up who I am have subsided or are subsiding. I’ve even lost interest in maintaining parts of the old me. I can’t wait for God to change those parts that always get me in trouble. I have changed a lot, and a big change is in the things that are missing: fear, loneliness and frustration.
I’ve also found that life is more exciting God’s way. It’s even more of a challenge, because my dreams are so small compared to His. That’s what happened in the Olympics. Because of CFIDS, some doctors told me to retire. I was struggling to make it through practices and I wondered if I was hurting the team. Then, thanks to a special diet, I had more energy; I was able to play. After each game, however, I had to have Ivs-a needle to put two or three liters of saline back in my body. Another needle drained my knee. Our trainers had to tape me up in so many places, they joked that I was usurping half the U.S. Soccer Federation budget. But with their help and God’s power, I somehow made it.
It wasn’t me fighting like I have in the past, it was me giving in and letting God take me through it. It has taken a while for me to get to this point, but I can honestly trust Him with my life. God promises to give me all the resources I need to deal with whatever is thrown at me, and the Olympics Games are a perfect example. They are about conquering obstacles. They are about incredible passion, fire, desire. Standing on the podium, I knew it was about becoming more than you are. The day after our gold-medal win, I wrote this in my journal:
“My thoughts are scattered and disjointed, but the sentiment and unforgettable memories will forever be embedded in my heart. My mind keeps returning to the past few years when I thought I was so alone, so isolated in my struggles and pain. God is so good. Through it all, He was preparing me for this moment, this experience. So faithful. He took it all away, but He gave me back so much more. “I go to bed tonight an Olympic Champion.”
Thanks to Inspirations [email protected]