Lessons From An American Hero

By Kenneth D. Sits

Do you think there is an American alive who has not yet heard of our newest national hero? Of course, I am talking about the small framed, 18 year-old Olympic gymnast named Kerri Strug. Her name has been “vaulted” to Olympic immortality with her gutsy performance in the women’s team competition last July in Atlanta. For the first time in history, the United States captured the “gold medal” in this event which snapped a streak of about forty years of Russian dominance.

Newspapers, not only in America, but across the globe have now etched Kern’s picture into our minds. Kerri was the last American to compete in the event in which the American team had a slim lead over the Russian girls. To ensure the “gold medal,” Kerri needed a score over 9.4 out of 10, and the event she was to compete in was “the vault” in which she would be given two attempts and the best score from the two would be her final score. With her first attempt, she landed awkwardly on her ankle and failed to obtain her 9.4 score. Kerri then limped back to the starting position, made her second attempt, “stuck” the landing, and scored a 9.7. After she “stuck” the landing, it was obvious to all that she severely injured her ankle this time and was carried off the floor on a stretcher. At the podium after the competition, the Woman’s American Gymnastics Team was all assembled to receive their gold medals, and Kerri was among them with her leg in a makeshift splint. To get back and forth to the platform, her coach carried her, beaming with great joy and pride. If you were watching this grand spectacle, admit it; you had to wipe a tear or two.

Friends, Kern Strug’s performance, in many ways, illustrates the point that Paul was attempting to make to the Corinthians about running for the greatest prize of all  our imperishable crown we shall receive in Heaven. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27,

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.

Consider three observations from this athlete which would help us as we compete spiritually for the great prize of eternal joy.

Kern “brought her body into subjection” in order to make her second attempt. If you watched her first attempt, it was noticeable that she twisted or hurt her ankle. Did she quit? Did she give up? “Give up” wasn’t in her vocabulary. Yes, she was suffering, but there wasn’t a hint of “I can’t do it” in her mind. She shook off her pain the best she could and off she went to give it her best again. And the best is what we saw! The apostle Paul was just like this. When he suffered, when he was threatened, when he was humiliated for the faith of Christ, he just kept giving his best. There wasn’t any quit in his work for Jesus. No set back could stop his run for God’s golden city. Sadly, not all Christians have this mentality. In explaining the parable of the sower Jesus said, “But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a time and in time of temptation fall away” (Luke. 8:13). Regardless of the dilemma, whether it be physical or spiritual, we cannot afford to quit, we can never leave our Lord. Jesus has the answers to help us fight our problems, or at the very least, manage and endure our problems. Even if everyone for-sakes us, Jesus has promised to be there to help us fight again (2 Tim. 4:16-17). So, our resolve should be: get up, shake it off and run with all our might the race God has set before us. Our eternal future depends on it.

The second lesson we should learn from Kerri was her focus for the sake of the team. Kerri was a team player and she was determined not to let her team, her coach and her country down at “crunch” time. This is how every Christian should view his individual effort among a congregation. Paul reminded the brethren in Ephesus of their need to work by saying, “from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, ac-cording to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love” (Eph. 4:16). In far too many congregations across the land, Christians look to the leaders among the congregation to fulfill their own religious needs, just like the denominational groups. The teaching of Christ encourages us to see ourselves like Kerri: you are part of the team and the congregation needs your efforts for the cause, it needs your work, it needs what you are able to supply for the growth of the body of Christ. Don’t wait for some member of the congregation to appease your desires religiously. Be a team player and work hard to fulfill the share of the load God expects of you! This is what promotes spiritually healthy churches of Christ.

The last lesson for our discussion may be the most important. Kern Strug is a small girl. Her height is 4′ 9″ and her weight is 88 pounds. The feat before her under the circumstances was gigantic. To win, she had to stick this landing on a painful ankle with millions of eyes glued to her every step and if she failed, America would lose. Do you know what she did right before she attempted her second vault? She prayed! She asked God to help her! I have no idea what Kern’s religious affiliation is, but she made it known to all the world that she needed God for this one. When our times of trial and trouble come around, we need to be like Kerri. We need to remember that God is for us, that he will listen to our most urgent requests and he is a very present help in time of trouble. After Paul exhorted Christians to take on the armor of God, he went on to say we should be, “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints” (Eph. 6: 18). Oh, we need to be a people of prayer for our God can change the night to day.

In America’s collective heart, Kern Strug is a hero. If Christians would apply these three spiritual lessons we have learned from Kern in our “fighting the good fight of faith,” God will reward us with eternal gold. Are you running? Are you a team player? Is your work for Jesus covered in prayer? We all can be heroes for the cause of Jesus Christ. Will you be a hero?

Guardian of Truth XL: No. 24, p. 14-15
December 19, 1996