On May 24, I hosted a group of parents and friends of the university at the NCAA Division III championships at Claremont in California. Al and Debbie Medina (parents of sophomore student Aaron) brought Subway sandwiches and lots of Gatorade for an Oregon team facing sunny California weather! We had four athletes competing: Alexis Arnold (heptathlon), Charity Arn (heptathlon), Emily Davison (long jump) and Alyssa Turner (400-meter hurdles).
I always welcome the opportunities I have to spend time with our students, as it provides a powerful reminder of why George Fox exists. These young women are excellent students and excel in and outside the classroom. I had a chance to watch them compete, to meet their families, and also to get to know each of them a little better personally.
Most of the time when you compete in an athletic endeavor you are with a group of individuals who are working together to accomplish a goal. While you certainly are scoring team points in track and field, you compete as an individual athlete and are personally exposed in ways that you are not in many other sports. When you run a race you cannot throw or pass a ball to someone else to help accomplish the goal. You must find the commitment within yourself to continue the race, to jump longer, to throw farther. In track and field, ultimately, the contest is not against others, it is primarily within oneself. I think that is why the Apostle Paul used “running” metaphors when considered the Christian life – “let us lay aside the sin that so easily weighs us down as we run the race that is set before us.”
You should know that they all performed well. Charity, a first-year student, finished 14th out of 22 in the heptathlon. Emily finished ninth in the long jump (while setting a George Fox record), and Alyssa finished sixth in the 400-meter hurdles, achieving all-American status! Each one of them performed at their personal best in the national meet. What else could one ask for?
Alexis, as you may know, earned the national title in the heptathlon in a thrilling finale. Coming into the last event of the heptathlon, the 800-meter run, Alexis was second. What you may not know is that the 800 is not Alexis’ best event – in fact she hates it! I suppose, then, on the surface it did not look good for her going into the last event. Her coaches, John Smith, coach of the year in the Northwest Conference, and Michele Forbes, assistant coach of the year in the conference, developed a strategy for her to win. All she had to do was run a “record” time for her and to stay within seven seconds of a young woman from Ithaca who would surely win the 800 and was in third place. It came down to the stretch run and the young woman from Ithaca ran a 2:21 to win the event. Alexis came down the stretch with all she had and finished in 2:28 (a personal best) and exactly 6.9 seconds behind her challenger. She was champion by two points (out of almost 5,000!) – certainly a tough way to lose but a glorious way to win!
Very few people win national championships. Alexis got to experience something – and the parents, staff and students of GFU vicariously – that comes rarely in a lifetime. She stood above the competition in the most important event of the year. In another context, though, we all run a “race.” We have been given talents by God to fulfill his purposes here. In God’s race there really are no national “titles” or championships. Each person is asked to give all that they are to accomplish God’s mission. In that sense all of our athletes this past weekend were champions. They used their gifts to the utmost of their ability.
Our coach, John, has developed a fine competitive track program and one that seeks to honor God. It also became clear that Alexis, Charity, Emily and Alyssa all have dreams for the future but they are not dreams of professional athletics. They enjoy competing but mostly they seek God’s design on their lives and they like George Fox because our faculty and coaches place Christ first above all else.
Our challenge is to make sure that every undergraduate and graduate student has an opportunity to develop the gifts that God has provided them so that they can bring about kingdom values in this world.