Mara Abbott is a name that few people know. This 30-year-old woman from Boulder, Colorado, has worked there on a farm and has sold vegetables at the Farmer’s Market in order to support herself. She sometimes struggles with insecurities and an eating disorder, due primarily to her strong drive to succeed.
On Sunday afternoon, August 7, I watched along with millions of people around the world as Mara competed in the Women’s Road Race during the Olympic competition. It is a race of over 87 miles, lasting almost 4 hours. Mara had the race of her life. Through a series of unexpected events, close to the end of the race she found herself in the lead by 40 seconds ahead of the nearest cyclist. With only 200 meters remaining, she began to actually believe that she might win the Gold medal! However, just as the finish line came into sight, riders from the Netherlands, Sweden and Italy sprinted past her. Mara had given all the strength she had and crossed the finish line 4 seconds behind, finishing in fourth place. In her exhaustion and heartbreaking defeat, she had to avoid running over reporters rushing to interview the three medal winners. It was of little importance that Mara had beaten the other 64 competitors.
People from every nation celebrate the Olympics, because we all understand the thrill of victory. However, for every medal winner, there are many more competitors who have practiced and competed with everything they can give, but still don’t make it to the medal platform. Our hearts go out to competitors like Mara, because we also intimately understand the agony of defeat.
There is good news for those of us who are followers of Christ. While we all have some painful losses and setbacks along the way, our ultimate victory is already assured! As we run our race, we keep our stride by holding to promises such as, “This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.”(1 John 5:4); “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me through Christ Jesus.” Phil. 3:14); and “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” (Is. 40:31)
Historians tell us that during the first Olympic Games in Athens dating back to 776 B.C., the victor would ride in a chariot around the stadium to receive the applause of the crowd. A slave would stand beside the victor as they rode, whispering into his ear, “Victory is fleeting.” In contrast, we compete for the applause of One who loves to see us run with abandon for His glory, knowing that, through Christ, the victory has already been won.