Shane Gould – By Grace

(Australia, Swimmer, 1972 Munich: Gold – 200m freestyle; 400m freestyle; 200m individual medley; Silver – 800m freestyle; Bronze – 100m freestyle)

(illustration by Simon Smith, © Simon Smith 2011, used with permission)

If you make it into an Olympic Team you are good; if you make it into the Olympic Final you are great; if you win at the Olympics you are outstanding!

Imagine doing all that before your 16th birthday! Shane was the Australian swimming team’s superstar; she has broken five world records already! Her sporting career was still in front of her! She could own the pools for many years! The 100m freestyle was her thing! Everyone expected her to bring home yet another gold medal matching the one she won a few days before. She had trained hard for this, she expected the best too.

The time has come, the loudspeakers called her name, the crowd cheered, she stepped forward waved and forced a smile despite the distraction. Just two lengths, freestyle her favourite. She breathed deeply, wiggled her arms, tried to loosen up, getting ready for the starter pistol.

Then she dived, trying to storm ahead, but something was different, something was wrong. Shane felt flat, lethargic, but she kept going. The energy just wasn’t there. But she did all the moves, pushed hard not paying attention to the others. She got to the other side, tumble turn, under and round and pushing off again, the water felt cool, lovely, stroke after stroke. Then she touched the side of the pool. Emerging from the water she heard the crowd cheering. But it wasn’t for her. Someone else came first, and second! Shane was ‘only’ third. She did not know what she was supposed to feel. Disappointed? Angry? Upset? Strangely she did not feel awful. Something inside her said: ‘You do not have to win everything. You just have to be here, doing what you do, and doing it the best you can, and enjoy it!’ It was a hard lesson for the teenager, especially as she had to learn it in front of the whole world. But in a strange way she felt good, grown-up! Even as she received her medal on the podium she was pondering this big new idea – winning isn’t everything!

Arriving back to the Olympic Village, she entered her room to find it redecorated with pink and white toilet tissues! ‘Well done Shane!’ squealed her room-mate giving her a big hug: ‘A bronze medal as well! Fantastic! The best cheer she ever had, Shane said later.

Afterwards there were more races, and more medals, she returned home down under with five medals, three gold, one silver, and one bronze.

Arriving home her mother asked her to take her medals with her to church. During the service they were laid on the Communion Table. In her prayer Shane thanked God for them and that felt right.

After the Olympic Games Shane found being a ‘celebrity’ very hard, and she retired from competitive swimming at the age of 16!  But she learnt a great lesson in Munich: ‘I could see my achievements as something outside of myself, she said, as a gift to be appreciated and a responsibility to be honoured, not as an ability to be owned and controlled.” One of her favourite Scripture passages was: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Her life, talent and achievements were a gift of God by grace to her, and she was grateful to Him for that.

[from GV; based on ‘Who Comes First?’ by Chris Hudson]

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