I got back home to the United States with a whirlwind of publicity tours awaiting me. I landed on a Saturday and was supposed to begin a tour across the country on a Monday. But in between, I decided to get baptized.

At church that Sunday, my pastor challenged the congregation. Do you ever feel a moment in your life, he said, when coach calls you to step up to the plate? Will you be the one, when your back is against the wall, to step up?

I just lived that out, performing my best for God when my back was against the wall, and I decided that was the day I would devote my life to the Lord.

I've always been a Christian, and I try to live up to the name my parents have given me, but on that day I finally became all in. However, devoting my life to God didn't mean my career began to take off. In fact, over the next two years, I began to go through the biggest adversity of my career.

I began experiencing pain on the track, and it finally got to the point I was thinking about quitting. My coach and I talked it over, but before I abandoned the sport for good, I thought about my sister. She's four years younger than me and I've tried to set a good example for her, because I knew that whatever decisions I made, there was a good chance she was going to make the same ones. Now I needed to show her one more lesson: perseverance.

I decided to continue on with my career, but I knew my current path was unsustainable. There was really one good option - switching feet. That's what brought me to that track, celebrating a 16 meter jump.

I began to slowly improve, but I was nowhere close to my old self. I entered 20 meets in 2014, and only won a single competition. I was beat at the 2015 World Championships, as well as the 2016 Olympic Trials.

Fortunately, by this point in my life I no longer needed to win gold to feel complete. My identity is no longer as an athlete but as follower of Christ. That helped me to roll with the punches a lot better, and put me in a better frame of mind as I prepared for the Olympics. Psalm 1 talks about doing things the right way, and I wanted to live that out. Whether or not I won Gold at the Olympic Finals in Rio, I was going to glorify God in the process.

I knew that the trials were just that - trials. Few people remember how Michael Phelps performed during any of his Olympic Trial swim meets. What they remember is the 28 medals, 23 of which were Gold. And as long as I qualified for the Olympics, which I did, that's what counted.

When we got to the 2016 finals, the competition started completely different from 2012. I delivered a 17.86 on my first jump, and then watched as one round after another my competitors were failing to beat my mark. By the time the fifth round approached, the guy who didn't know if he could reach the sand in 2013 was on the verge of taking gold again.

And just like the other round rounds, my mark was safe. I had done it again for my country.

 
 

I couldn't hold it in. I began crying, and continued to cry throughout the day. Every time someone said congratulations, I would break down. I didn't even have to hear the National Anthem to get emotional; I already had tears in my eyes just putting on the uniform as we got ready to take the podium. Whenever people told me how happy they were for me, all I could think about was why God chose me, and how amazing it is when I trust in Him.

I jumped 17.81 meters in 2012, and despite re-inventing myself as a triple jumper between the two Olympics, I jumped 17.86 in 2016. Sometimes we feel like we're going backwards in life, or that things are falling apart, but my story just goes to show that God has you exactly where He needs you to be. And if you put your trust in Him, you can go further in life than you've ever gone before.

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Thomas Hager1 Comment