I can’t remember not being an athlete. From the time that I could walk, I participated in sports and extracurricular activities. During my earliest years of life, I danced. I did gymnastics for several more years, though I wasn’t good at it. (I was too tall and flimsy to control my body.) By the time I was 11, I started racing competitively, and that’s where I found my niche. I was fast and strong with nearly a perfect hurdle technique. I worked hard. I won often. I grew confident.
As I reflect on those small wins in life, I think about the women Olympians I looked up to over the years … gymnasts like Dominique Dawes and Mary Lou Retton. (As a young girl, I actually met Mary Lou at a “Healthy Mind, Healthy Body Winning Without Drugs” event.) I looked up to track stars like Jackie Joyner-Kersee, the late Florence Griffith-Joyner (“Flo Jo”), and of course the star hurdler, Gail Devers.
These women athletes are God’s image bearers who display his confidence and character. They remind us with their physical ability and strength that our bodies are good. With their performances, they sacrifice not only for personal honor, the team, or our country, but by disciplining their bodies, they honor their creator who is the Lord.
As they perform with neatly placed hair and perfect makeup (I never did that), they celebrate God’s beauty in the masterful creation that is the human body. They acknowledge that God does care about our bodies and participating in sports is one way we can celebrate its beauty.
Our bodies are created to worship. With so many negative images bombarding our young women today (see the video clip below), it is important that we raise our voices to share a different message. Young girls need to know that they are not simply a consequence of what they wear, their body size, what they eat, or how men (or other women) view them. The airbrushed images in magazines and commercials should not define them.
I am calling now for a release … freedom … a proclamation that young girls everywhere have a choice to take on positive images. I am not implying that we encourage more self-help or self-esteem building techniques. I am rather stating that we should encourage girls to value the mind, body, and soul, realizing that they are not separate entities from each other.
By the time I entered college, I was meditating on passages like the Apostle Paul calling all Christians to approach life as a runner who desires to win a prize. In order to win, Paul says we must all go into strict training (1 Cor. 9:24-27). Strict physical training requires countless hours of focus, dedication, and hard work. It requires personal sacrifice and a reordering of priorities if you want to win. With that understanding, this passage provides a simple truth: focusing to develop physical discipline (particularly early in one’s life) can correlate to the development of spiritual discipline. Disciplining ourselves in mind, body, and spirit is as an act of holistic worship toward God since we are called to do everything as unto the Lord.
God’s image bearers should reflect his character and the reality that his creation is indeed good. God’s image bearers should reflect his desire for creativity and honor and excellence. Encourage girls to honor God with their bodies for “the body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body” (1 Cor. 6:13b, NIV).
We can honor God through physical conditioning; therefore, in the words of that great motivator Edna Mode from The Incredibles, “Go! Fight! Win!” Let the girls run, jump, spike, throw, leap. Let them sweat, burn, and sacrifice. Let them honor God with their bodies. Let them play sports.
This year’s Olympic Games include many American athletes of color to root for in a range of sports. While it’s quite overwhelming to keep up with medal counts, records and your favorite athletes, the Olympics are an incredibly inspirational culmination of hard work, sacrifice, and faith. It takes just as many prayers as it does crunches to reach the greatest level in sports. We compiled a short list of American athletes who have boldly confessed their Christian faith on the way to Rio. Check out their stories below and be sure to cheer them on in the coming weeks!
Trayvon Bromell, Track & Field
Twenty-one-year-old Trayvon Bromell is a member of the men’s 100m relay team, something that seemed almost impossible just a few years ago. After suffering debilitating knee and hip injuries, Bromell executed patience and diligence on the road to recovery. “I didn’t have the resources and my family didn’t either, but God got us through it and it all paid off. I put my faith in God, knowing He would get me through it,” Bromell said in a 2015 interview. A junior at Baylor University and NCAA champion, Bromell has received attention from sprinting greats Michael Johnson and Justin Gatlin. He regularly professes his faith on Twitter, including in his bio, “He must become greater; I must become less.” He’s the reigning indoor world champion in the 60m sprint, and will make his Olympic debut August 13 in the 100m and August 18 in the 4x100m relay.
Carlin Isles, Rugby Sevens
Carlin Isles, 26, is known as the fastest man in rugby. A former track and football star at Ashland University, Isles was a long shot prepping for the London Olympics when he came across rugby sevens video online. Knowing his shot at the Olympic track team was slim, he called the head of the U.S. rugby team, switched cities, and began training in a new sport—a decision that required a great leap of faith. “I knew it probably wouldn’t be easy at first … Basically, I put my faith in God and myself and it all panned out,” he told the New York Times. This is the first Olympics featuring rugby sevens (the condensed version of rugby) as a medal sport, and Isles, though only 5 feet 8 inches tall, is one of the quickest in the world. He recently told ESPN, “I pray that when I get there, I can do what God allows me to do and take it from there. I’m sure a good Olympic showing would only be beneficial.” The U.S. team competes against Argentina in Group A on August 9.
Simone Biles, Women’s Gymnastics
By now, you’ve probably heard that Simone Biles and the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team won the gold medal during the 2016 Olympic Games which further confirms what we already knew about this woman of God. She is undoubtedly one of the greatest and most decorated athletes in the world. The gold medalist has taken the entire world by storm during this year’s games and even has a gravity-defying move named after her (Google “The Biles” to see what we mean.), but her story hasn’t always been this amazing. Biles was born to drug-addicted parents which resulted in she and her siblings being shuffled between her mother’s house and foster care. Thankfully, her grandparents eventually adopted Biles and her sister and raised the girls in a God-fearing home where faith and family always came first. Now, fast-forward to today, and you are sure to find a rosary that was given to Biles by her grandmother in her gym bag, and you’ll definitely find her attending church on her only day off from her grueling training schedule, Sunday. In the midst of all the media attention and extraordinary ability, the gymnast has always made faith and family her main priority.
Jordan Burroughs, Wrestling
Jordan Burroughs is defending his Olympic title in freestyle wrestling during the Rio Games. The three-time All-American and two-time undefeated national champion has won multiple international titles and Olympic gold, but none of it, according to Burroughs, compares to a relationship with God. “A gold medal is always going to leave you empty … There’s no other thing in life that’s more fulfilling than a relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s all about being content with God’s provision.” In a beautiful blog post from 2012, Burroughs writes, “I believe that Faith is the most important aspect of our sport and our lives. As a competitor, the first day that we decide to put on a pair of wrestling shoes and step into the center circle and shake hands, we need faith before any victory can ever be earned.” He will begin his title defense August 19 in the men’s freestyle 74kg division.
Claressa Shields, Boxing
Reigning Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields dominated the amateur boxing world and won in her weight class at the inaugural Olympic women’s boxing tournament in London in 2012. The 21-year-old Flint, Michigan native is a historic champion with a stunning 74-1 record. She’s the first American woman to win titles at the Olympics and the Pan American games. Universal Pictures recently acquired the rights to make a movie about her life. Despite her success in the ring, Shields cites her faith as the source of her drive to give back. “[Harriet Tubman] was a very strong black woman and I think it took a whole lot of courage to actually be free and go back and free others and I feel like that’s kind of my job as a Christian,” Shields said during a 2015 Black History Month keynote speech. “I made it and it’s time to come back and save others to help them be as successful as they can be.” Catch her in action August 17 in the women’s middle 75kg class.
Allyson Felix, Track & Field
Allyson Felix is a household name in track and field, and for good reason: she’s a 4-time Olympic gold medalist, with over 30 championship medals over the length of her career, and a 4-time recipient of the Jesse Owens Award, the USATF’s version of Athlete of the Year. Rio marks her fourth Olympics, and at the age of 30, Felix hasn’t slowed down—literally. She also isn’t shy about discussing her devout Christian faith, which she says keeps her going. Felix recently told the LA Times, “Faith leads my life. That’s definitely the reason that I run. I feel like I’ve been blessed with this gift, and so that’s something that helps me to see the bigger picture.” She is also a member of Project Believe, an anti-doping program to fight the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Felix voluntarily gets tested for PEDs regularly to promote integrity in the sport. In a recent Instagram post, she quoted Eric Liddell: “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” Allyson will race August 13, 15, and 19 in the 400m, 200m, and 4x400m relay, respectively.
WE’RE TALKING ABOUT HAIR?: Olympian Gabby Douglas was the first African American to win a gold medal in the all-around gymnastics category, but some people were more interested in her hairstyle. (Photo: Bob Daemmrich/Newscom)
What do Oprah Winfrey and Gabby Douglas have in common besides being hardworking African American females, and history-making ones to boot? Well, as you’ve probably heard by now, both came under fire last week because of issues with — wait for it — their hair.
It is no secret that within black culture hair is a pretty big deal — especially for women. Whether it’s one’s hairstyle or method of hair care, there is no shortage of opinions regarding the subject. Black women of all shades undoubtedly can say that at one point in their lives the status of their tresses has been a hot topic of conversation — and frustration.
Last week, when Oprah released a tease for the September issue of her O Magazine, where she graced the cover donning an all-new natural ’do, the chatter began immediately. In the article, O contributor Ruven Afanador said, “For the first time ever, Oprah’s appearing on the cover of O without blow-drying or straightening her hair.” Afanador writes that Winfrey enjoys wearing her hair naturally, because it makes her feel unencumbered.
But not everyone agreed that Oprah’s hair was legitimately “natural.” A controversy emerged in social media about what actually constitutes “natural,” because for some the remnant of any past chemical treatment means it’s not truly natural. Oprah needs to stop lying to herself, the detractors declared.
Soon after that, reports started circulating about criticisms of U.S. Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas’s hair, that some black women didn’t like the ponytail or how she uses a gel to grease it back.
But why all the hubbub? What is it about black women’s hair that is deemed so worthy of scrutiny by other black women? It’s been said that a woman’s hair is her glory (1 Cor. 11:15), and if that is the case then why is the personal choice of her having a natural hairdo versus a relaxer so controversial?
Evan Miles, a writer for Journey Magazine, sought to unearth the societal implications associated with black hair and the roots to African American history and culture in his provocatively titled article,“Is a Black Woman’s Hair Her Glory or Gloom?”
Miles believes that for centuries, African Americans have been stripped of their heritage and forced to comply with a European cultural worldview that encouraged a new standard of beauty. According to him, “This meant taking the very essence of their being and denouncing it.” This is why Miles believes, perhaps more than ever, why black women are so adamant about regaining ownership of their hair and their own personal identities. According to him, black women’s various hairstyles “exude confidence” and self-beauty. He believes that it’s not only what is on the outside that matters, but also what lies deep within.
GOLDEN GIRL: Douglas waves to fans at the London Games following her gold-medal victory. “What’s wrong with my hair?” she said after hearing the criticism. “It can be bald or short, it doesn’t matter.” (Photo: Brian Peterson/Newscom)
So if beauty is only skin deep, and what is inside your head is of more importance than what is on top, why is someone like Gabby Douglas included in this debate? After the social media storm debating Douglas’ choice in hairstyle surfaced last week, the 16-year-old gymnast remarked that she was confused by the commotion. “I don’t know where this is coming from. What’s wrong with my hair?” she said. “I’m like, ‘I just made history and people are focused on my hair?’ ”
And Gabby, of course, is right. Why is it so easy for us to lose focus when it comes to black hair?
Reading the many stories in the press this past week got me to thinking again about this complicated subject that is a black woman’s hair. In my quest for understanding, I began reflecting on my own personal journey with hair — the ups and downs, the highs and lows, and the path to self-discovery and self-esteem.
In my 26 years of life, my identity with relation to my hair has seen many twists and curls. Like many black women, I once sustained my silky strands by way of a relaxer. Four years ago, however, I decided to forgo that method to go “natural.” My hairstyles over the course of my lifetime have been a diverse extension of who I am and a direct correlation of my personality. Being natural for me has been less about a healthy head of hair or making a statement, and more about learning to redefine my own personal standard of beauty.
Granted it takes longer for me to achieve my desired look each morning, because of all the deep conditioning and blow-drying that I do, but I wouldn’t trade that diversity for the world. I love my hair and appreciate the fact that I can be different while being a reflection of God’s diverse creation. I’ve got an eccentric personality, and like my shoe or handbag collection my hairstyle is an extension of who I am as a person.
I feel like India.Arie said it best in her song “I Am Not My Hair,” when she sang:
“I am not my hair/ I am not this skin/ I am not your expectations/ I am not my hair I am not this skin/ I am a soul that lives within.” Our hair, India reminds us, does not define us. It does not make us a better person or friend, and it does not determine who we are at the end of the day.
God created us in his very image, and he does not make mistakes. Instead of questioning his handiwork, we ought to embrace our unique style and diversity. So if rocking a weave or slappin’ a perm in your hair or wearing your hair natural is what makes you happy at the end of the day, then by all means love yourself and do you!
CLEARING LIFE’S HURDLES: Lolo Jones on Aug. 6, 2012, during an Olympic preliminary race for the 100-meter hurdles. She hopes to prove wrong the critics who are asking whether she’s more flash than substance. (Photo: Splash News/Newscom)
On Twitter, Lolo Jones sports a playful sense of humor, making jokes about her love life and Olympic adventures, and sometimes sparking controversy.
As she competed in the women’s 100-meter hurdles this week, Jones found herself in the spotlight again, and media outlets haven’t forgotten the buzz surrounding her virginity. The New York Times wrote about it this past weekend in a controversial article, provocatively titled “For Lolo Jones, Everything Is Image,” which suggested Jones was playing up her virginity, beauty, and poor upbringing for undeserved media attention. That piece has sincecomeunderfire.
But despite doubts that her athletic ability warranted attention, the 30-year-old track star came just shy of a medal on Tuesday, August 7, placing fourth in the 100-meter hurdles. Of course that fourth-place finish held little consolation for Jones, who had come so close to a gold medal four years earlier in Beijing before clipping the second-to-last hurdle and falling out of medal contention. Many viewed London as her chance for redemption — or at least that was the narrative that the media played up. Time magazine, for instance, recently featured her as one of three Olympians on the cover of their Olympics special issue and wrote about her trip-up in “Lolo’s No Choke.”
Unfortunately, Tuesday’s outcome fell short of a storybook ending. “I’ll definitely be reading my Bible and try to grasp the positives and see what God has to teach me from all this,” Jones said after the finals. “That’s the only way I feel I can get rebalanced right now, because I am so broken-hearted.”
Without fail, crude jokes about Jones’s virginity lit up Twitter and other social media following her loss.
Faith in the Public Eye
The New York Times wasn’t the first to criticize Jones for talking about her virginity or using sex appeal. TMZ made fun of her virginity. Others also questioned if her ESPN body issue photo compromised her values. On May 25, Jones tweeted in response:
“go to a museum & look at naked pictures/statues of ppl & its considered art but what I did is not? u see no parts exposed” and later, “Ryan hall is another christian. He’s done missions in africa & posed in latest issue. Shall u judge him as well? John 8:7”
Some suggested she date fellow Christian virgin Tim Tebow, to which Jones had a witty tweet: “Ask Tebow if he wants a glass of milk. If he says yes, ask him if he prefers chocolate. if he says no, then no more Tebow date suggestions.”
Jones is African American, Native American, French and Norwegian.
COLORFUL PERSONALITY: In interviews and on Twitter, Jones has been known to be outspoken and irreverent in her comments, which has sometimes landed her in hot water. (Photo: Walter Bieri/Newscom)
Even before this current New York Times controversy, Jones had been stirring things up in the media while awaiting her race in London. Her recent tweet about the Olympic skeet shooting competition drew criticism in light of the Aurora, Colorado, shooting: “USA Men’s Archery lost the gold medal to Italy but that’s ok, we are Americans… When’s da Gun shooting competition?” Jones later tweeted that she had been referring to Americans’ experience with hunting.
Sometimes Jones tweets about her faith, such as on July 26: “As I arrive in London for the Olympics, I’m overwhelmed with emotions. Thank you Lord for another chance and for holding me as i waited.” She thanked people for praying for her on July 22, but after criticism, clarified that her prayer was “to be an inspiration & to honor God,” not to win a gold medal.
“I never have prayed to win a gold medal at Olympics and never will,” Jones tweeted. “The Lord is my Shepard and I shall not want. May His will be done.”
Bonding Through Struggle
In her Real Sports interview, Jones said saving sex for marriage has been “the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, harder than training for the Olympics.”
But outside the spotlight, Jones tells how her Christian faith has sustained her through her struggles, and how her sister Angie Jefferson has encouraged her along the way.
Jones wrote about her older sister in an essay for the O.C. Tanner Inspiration Award, which recognizes a person who has inspired an Olympian to succeed. In it, Jones quoted Romans 9:12, “The older will serve the younger,” and wrote, “Angie is my reminder from God to stop at never.”
Growing up poor, Jones learned how to shoplift TV dinners and make a quick escape if she needed to, according to Time. Her family moved around frequently, and was at one point rendered homeless, living in a Salvation Army church basement.
Money was tight, but Jones has told stories about how her mother and sister helped her succeed. In a Procter & Gamble video series, “Raising an Olympian,” Jones said, “My mom would always try to do by any means necessary to make sure that we had what we needed. I definitely do not think I’d be going for this dream had I not seen her pick herself up so many times and keep fighting for us.”
STOPPING AT NEVER: Jones credits her sister for helping her develop a persevering spirit.
Meanwhile, her sister Angie Jefferson, then a teenager, recognized her talent and bought Jones her first running gear — which Jones said in her essay saved her the embarrassment of wearing old clothes.
When Jones moved across the country to go to Louisiana State University, Jefferson was again there for her sister through visits and tearful phone calls.
“Life was hard because the ghosts of my childhood were still there,” Jones wrote in her essay. “But thankfully, so was [Angie] — constantly reminding me there wasn’t anything I couldn’t overcome and survive with God’s help.”
Now, Jefferson serves as Jones’s manager. She encouraged her when Jones faced spine surgery a year ago. “It’s going to be okay,” Jefferson said, according to Jones’s essay. “I have a peace about Dr. Bray and his ability to help you. We are going to pray for God’s favor and trust God to take care of you.”
Jones wrote that she remembers seeing her sister with her prayer journal before a January 2012 race. It gave her a sense of peace. After Jones’s victory, the sisters hugged and cried together.
“It was a moment that words can’t express, a bond that together, can overcome anything,” Jones wrote.
On Monday, before her qualifying race in London, Jones was seen mouthing Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Even after Tuesday’s disappointing result, one suspects she’ll continue to hold onto that truth.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated to address the results of Jones’s finals race on Tuesday, August 7.
When social media crash, do you crash and burn along with them? As a society so enamored with staying digitally connected and continually sharing our personal moments and thoughts online, what happens when our newfound forums are momentarily disabled? How do we function, and how do we learn to cope?
For me personally, I’m not exactly sure what to do. I confess: I depend on Twitter for various forms of communication, and I have found that it can be extremely frustrating when I want to send or read a tweet but can’t.
When something as constant as Twitter or Facebook goes down, it makes me think critically about the direction that our society is heading. When did we become so heavily reliant on social sites that share sometimes important or inspirational, but more often than not irrelevant, information about ourselves? And more importantly, what does that mean for us when a social media site is malfunctioning? Does our day collapse along with it?
In my search for sanity during yesterday’s Twitter crash, I ran across three posts that helped me process the situation.
Why is Twitter so addictive?
According to Forbes.com contributor Reuven Cohen, in his article “When Twitter Goes Down, So Does the Social Web,” Twitter has become “the beating pulse of the Internet.” Cohen reflects on the connection and relevance that Twitter holds in our lives. According to him, the site has become the central source of socially aggregated information.
For many users, Twitter serves as our confidant, our cheerleader, and fellow business partner. And when it fails or becomes unavailable, then essentially we do too — well, at least metaphorically.
Adds Cohen, “It’s the first place I look when there is a story worth following. The first place I look for opinions, and the first place I go to share. The instant Twitter goes down, there is an immediate and distinct sense of disconnection from my social graph.”
Yep. Disconnection describes that sinking feeling I had yesterday pretty well.
So after reflecting on why Twitter is so crucial to my day, I was left wondering what I should do in those exasperating times when it is not available. Or, put another way: What can we, the users, do while we wait for something as indispensable as Twitter to get back online?
Well, Dave Larson at the blog TweetSmarter suggests that users first and foremost realize that any problems related with the social media conglomerate will take time to fix. So we need to approach the situation as we would any emergency: stay calm and be patient.
In his post, “Ten Things You Absolutely MUST Know … When Twitter Goes Down,” Larson also advises using your mobile device as an alternative to the Web, during the momentary shut down. Larson recommends waiting before complaining to Twitter, and finally rescheduling any important tweets that need to go out.
A final thought that I was reminded of during my search for Twitter illumination was to always consider, or perhaps reconsider, other social media sites. Interestingly enough, one of the main ways many of us found out about the Twitter outage was through our friend’s status updates on Facebook. So if getting your frivolous or clever thoughts out to the social-media masses is an absolute must, consider Twitter’s larger (though usually clunkier) competitor. This is a major step for a Twitter diehard like myself.
Thankfully, though, Twitter is back up today — just in time for the start of the Olympics. So, there should be plenty to tweet about this weekend.