Dan O'Brien

I had failed. I was the favorite going into the Olympic trials, but I was not going to Barcelona. When I did not make my 3rd attempt at the pole vault, I wanted to turn to someone and say, “Fix this….make it right….it can’t end like this.” But there was no one there.

Four years later, in Atlanta, I climbed the podium as the gold medal winner in the Decathlon. It had been such a long journey from the Olympic trials in 1992 to the podium in 1996 – a journey not only in terms of athletic skill and accomplishment, but a journey of the heart, a journey of faith.

I had grown up in the church. It was simply part of life. And I had gone forward in my church during Junior High and been born again. But I wasn’t really as close to God as I wanted to be, or maybe should have been.

Then my brother came to visit me while I was at the University of Idaho. He was going through some difficult times, facing difficult decisions, and he came to live with me for several months. He found a church and it changed his life. In fact he’s now a part-time minister at his church. It was during the time he stayed with me, and through his help that I renewed a daily conversation with God.

And that daily conversation with God has been the only thing that has allowed me to get through. Having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is what gives me strength. In fact, my favorite Bible passage says exactly that – “I can do all thing in Christ who is my strength.”

My relationship with God gave me the encouragement to rise from the failure of my Olympic trials in 1992. Even in the midst of that failure, I knew I wasn’t alone. God was with me all the way.

And as I look back on that failed attempt at the pole vault in ’92, when I truly felt and believed that was the worst moment in my life, I know now that God was with me, and He was in control. And for some reason, winning in 1992 wasn’t to be. I don’t really know why. Perhaps I was not ready. All through my life it’s been as if Someone has held me back from accomplishing things too soon, perhaps simply that I might learn humility, or how to trust.

For whatever reason, 1992 was not to be the year of my gold medal. 1996 was. In Atlanta. With my family present. They had been part of my journey as well. They had seen the struggles and the effort. And they were there for the triumph.

And throughout the two days of the Decathlon in Atlanta, my brother and I sat and prayed every chance we got. In fact, just having him there, sometimes even just seeing him, was a comfort to me, because I knew he was praying.

And somehow, before the final event began, the 1500 meters, my brother managed to get through all the security at the Olympics and came right to the railing around the track. I was in first place, and it was the last event, and we just prayed. In fact, my mother took a picture of the two of us at the rail, praying, and it’s one of my most treasured possessions.

And when the 1500 was over, as I crossed the finish line, all I could do was thank God, and I burst into tears.

It was finished. The journey from failure to victory. And God was with me every step of that journey. And still is.

And if I fail, it does not mean God has left me. He will not. And if I am victorious, it doesn’t mean that my faith somehow caused me to win. It just means that I know that God is with me, throughout the journey, no matter what. And that’s what gives me strength.

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