“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing!” This well-known adage often is attributed to legendary football coach, Vince Lombardi. Well, it is evident that Mr. Lombardi never had the privilege of coaching long distance runners.
At the 2016 Rio Olympics, an unplanned meeting of twenty-four year old American Abbey D’Agostino and New Zealand's Nikki Hamblin demonstrated that a "win at all cost" mindset couldn't be more off track! Prior to competing on this particular day (a qualifying event for the 5,000 meter final), the two women had never met. But the sequence of events that transpired not only would capture the attention of the Rio spectators present and millions around the world, it would forever link these two athletes. Watch this video summary.
Hamblin told reporters, "When I went down, I was like, 'What’s happening, why am I on the ground?' And suddenly there's this hand on my shoulder like 'Get up, get up, we have to finish this!'"
D’Agostino reflected, “Although my actions were instinctual at that moment, the only way I can and have rationalized it is that God prepared my heart to respond that way. This whole time here, He's made clear to me that my experience in Rio was going to be about more than my race performance — and as soon as Nikki got up I knew that was it.”
Indeed. It’s difficult to imagine working and training for four years (her entire adult life…literally!), working toward the moment to shine and then having that moment shattered in an instant. Many competitors simply would have kept on running. But D’Agostino’s instinctive response to turn and assist her fallen competitor was different. Her actions bring to mind the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37). While many say she embodied the “Olympic Spirit,” it seems pretty clear that Abbey D’Agostino’s heart was also filled with the Holy Spirit!
But wait … the story does not end there. For her part, Hamblin had a little bit of the Good Samaritan in her as well. As both women got up to resume the race, it was apparent D’Agostino had suffered severe injuries to her ankle and knee. The New Zealander returned the favor by helping her new friend up off the track when she had fallen again and encouraged her to continue. Initially, D’Agostino could not, and she told Hamblin to carry on. But moments later cameras were focused on D’Agostino, at this point far out of contention, valiantly struggling to make it around the track. She was visibly in pain, but determined.
When asked how she was able to make it across the finish line with a banged-up right knee, she replied, “A miracle. “All I know is I prayed my way through the last four-and-a-half laps. My knee was like jelly… as soon as I tried to pick it up, it would start buckling. I’ve never done anything like that.”
Toward the end of his life, St. Paul shared how he had given fully of himself and, reflecting back how he had “competed well, finished the race and kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:6-8). The reward for his faithfulness would be the day when he would be in the presence of the Lord.
The two women in this story certainly are running along righteous paths very early in their lives. Their actions on the world stage should inspire us to recognize, like St. Paul, our ultimate destination … and the roads -- right in front of us -- that can lead us there. Even Vince Lombardi would have a tough time arguing otherwise!