(Photo courtesy of PhotoRun)

When I started my career, things were not quite as difficult. I was a naturally gifted athlete, who liked the 400 meter dash and the long jump, but it was the triple jump that really called me. It wasn't quite as painful as the 400, and not as simple as the long jump. When you take off at the ideal point and put the three jumps together perfectly, it's like an extension of flying. It's a really special feeling, and I love this sport.

Fortunately, the triple jump seemed to love me back. I won both the indoor and outdoor NCAA Championships in my event and then won the World Championship in 2011. It was at that point that I realized just how big of a platform I had to inspire people and show God's love.

I remember I was in South Korea for the competition, and one of my friends came up to me and said I was trending on Twitter. I didn't even have a Twitter account, and had no idea what that meant, but he explained that it meant people were talking about me. My name was a trending topic of conversation. Then it struck me that I had a unique opportunity to shine a light on God's love and be a positive influence.

 
 

(Photo courtesy of PhotoRun)

But the spotlight of the World Championships is nothing compared to the Olympics, when people all across the world are watching. It was there, at the 30th Olympiad in London, that I had the opportunity to glorify God with my jumps.

The only problem was that as well as things had been going for the previous couple of years, within a few minutes of competing at the Olympics I was already in danger of being eliminated.

In the triple jump, you have to take off before your foot crosses the fault line, and you only get three attempts before you are disqualified. A lot of people think you want to take the first jump cautiously to ensure yourself of a safe jump, and then try to improve from there. Well I threw convention out the window and told myself that I'm really going for it. I wouldn't be able to look myself in the mirror if I knew I played it safe and didn't give every jump my all.

On my first jump, my foot stretched across the line for a fault. The same thing happened with my second jump, and if I did it a third time, that would be it.

I remember talking to God before that third jump. This is where you want me. I'm giving it my all and for some reason it's not getting right, but if this is where I'm supposed to be, show me what I need to learn from this situation.

Just like that, my third jump was good. It wasn't my best, but it got me three more jumps, and on my fourth attempt of the competition, I delivered with a 17.81 meter jump.

It was a mark that might be good enough to win the gold, but I was going to have to wait. And wait. And wait. The waiting was the longest part of the competition, as I watched one person after another foul or fail to beat my mark. I stayed in the zone preparing myself to respond if somebody were to outjump me, but it never happened. As the last jump fell short and my name still stood at the top, it was official: I was bringing a gold medal back to my country.

It was pure relief and joy for me, and then when I heard the National Anthem, that's when it started to sink in. All the hard work and sacrifices I had made really did pay off.

When I checked back on my Twitter after the ceremony, it was overwhelming to see how many people had cheered me on. I hadn't logged on for the month leading up to the Olympics so I could focus on my event, but when I did, I saw just how many people had been encouraging me the entire time. It made me feel like they were with me the whole time as I was competing.

And even if they were actually watching on tv from 4,000 miles away, I was never really alone when I was competing, because God was there the whole time. When I got home to Georgia, I was ready to return the favor.

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Thomas Hager