I shouted, “that’s my girl.” I was referring to Jamaican Shericka Jackson after winning the world title in the women’s 200 meters race. Her 21.45-second victory was the second fastest time in history. Interestingly, Shericka and I have never met, but she is still my girl.
What is it about sports that bind athletes and spectators? In a sense, athletes like Shericka represent us. She is a symbol of national and regional pride. She brings hope to our youth who fear failure when competing against the goliaths of first-world countries. Other athletes did very well at the World Championship games. However, after the women’s 200 meters race, Shericka was my girl.
There is so much for us to learn from sports. Athletes like Shericka teach us what it means to strive for excellence. Her pursuit for excellence began years ago. It included athletic skill, failure, disappointment, resilience, discipline and a teachable spirit. Interestingly, in sporting events, more participants lose than win. Hence the need to know how to handle failure.
Sports has a capacity to transcend barriers and to energize people, all around the world. Many of the values that underlie sports are the core values of social justice, values that should lie at the heart of our Christian faith. Sports mobilize people in far more ways than the purely physical.
Recently, I came across an academic paper in which Kathrine Marshall of Georgetown University identified a few benefits of sports. Kathrine believes sports can be used to inspire peace. She recalled that during ancient Olympic games, all fighting among warring tribes stopped for months. Even at this year’s Paralympic Games, an Olympic Truce was observed for seven days before and after the games.
Kathrine Marshall’s paper also contended that in sports, high goals are set. There are no limits to the ambitions of achievement. Agreed, “the essence of excellence is dealing with disappointment and learning from it to achieve more.” Sports provides a platform that illustrates this truth.
When Shericka Jackson crossed the finish line, she was alone. However, preparing for that moment involved many others. She represented a team of professionals that worked tirelessly. They never showed their faces on the awards’ podium, but their contributions were invaluable. We all have similar support in the journey of life. Among those on my team was Mrs Esther Gerig. This week I attended her funeral. In the seventies, Mrs Gerig taught me to type. Like any athlete, I can say, without the help of others, I would not be where I am today. Teamwork is absolutely essential.
Integrity is equally essential. Enhancement drugs are not allowed in sports. The playing field must be level for everyone participating. In addition, rules of the game must be followed. Corruption undermines both achievement and trust. Shericka Jackson exemplified integrity. We salute her for illustrating that integrity is critical to success.
So you can now appreciate why I shouted, “that’s my girl”. Her achievements satisfied some of my need for fulfillment. She confirmed that much is achieved in our pursuit of excellence. The feeling of joy is not only in the outcome, but also in the process. That process requires teamwork, integrity, diligence and athletic ability. If the apostle Paul were around, he would agree. In writing to the Corinthians, he said: “… run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” (1 Corinthians 9:24-26).