Jim Ryun was the first high school athlete to run a mile under four minutes. He would not stop there. Ryun continued running. He would compete at the Olympics three times, hold five world records and be on the cover of Sports Illustrated seven times. Ryun’s desire to help others would lead him to a political career where he served five terms as a U.S. Congressman. Risen recently interviewed Ryun and talked with him about how he saw God’s hand in his achievements and how he handled the disappointment of not winning the gold medal in the 1500-meter race.
Ryun reflects on how his faith and achievements.
“It was unbelievable. The thing that caused me to understand the uniqueness of it all, and God’s grace, is that after my prayer, ‘Dear God, please show up and I’d really like Your plan to be in sports,’ boy, did He show up. ESPN did a survey of athletes in the last century and I was selected the High School Athlete of the Century—over Tiger Woods and LeBron James. My events were back in the 1960’s. Just my simple prayer allowed God to show up in a big way. Up until 1972, I would say that I was churched, but I was not a Christian. To put it another way, I had been taught religion, something that happens on Sundays, but the rest of my life, I lived however I wanted to. I had been taught rules, but not that there is a God who created the universe and created me and loves me. I hadn’t known that a relationship with Jesus Christ was possible. What the religion and rules approach did for me was to create a tremendously judgmental and condescending attitude. I didn’t understand the love of God, nor that He wants to be involved in our lives seven days a week, 24/7…”
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:1-3
Ryun shares what it was like going from being favored to win the gold medal in the 1500-meter race at the Olympics to instead experiencing a crushing disappointment.
“I was spiked by another runner and fell. When I fell, my head struck the railing and I was unconscious for several seconds. I managed to get up to finish the race, but I did not qualify. Anne had been up in the stands for the race and immediately she started heading for the tunnel where the athletes entered the track. Two days previously the first terrorist attack against the Israeli teams had taken place and there were guards armed with machine guns stationed at 10 or 20 yard intervals, yet miraculously no one stopped her. She met me coming off the track into the tunnel. We embraced and just stood there for a few minutes. Then we said a prayer, basically a cry for God’s help. Very soon the media and the coaches descended on us. They said it was obvious that I had been fouled and offered assurances that I would be reinstated. Then everyone disappeared. We left the track and started walking back to the Olympic Village. As we walked, I realized that in order to be reinstated, I needed someone to write that reinstatement petition. We passed the ABC television booth and I boldly walked into the booth and approached my friend, Howard Cosell. He said, ‘Jimmy, I’m so sorry. Sit down. We’re gonna write up that petition now. You’ll be right back in those Games!’ So we submitted the petition to the IOC [International Olympic Committee]. The next day, we still had heard nothing. I suited up to get ready for the next round and finally an IOC official came up to me. ‘Your petition has been denied,’ he said. ‘Why don’t you come back in four years and try again.’ I wanted to strangle him!”
Say a simple prayer. Whether you are starting your day at work, getting ready to compete in a sport or just need help getting through your day, take time throughout your routine to pray. Remember that God wants to have a conversation with us. We often think that we have to pray for a long time for God to hear us. The truth is that God hears all of our prayers. Don’t get discouraged if you hear someone pray for a long time. Start out with simple prayers, “God help me to get through this,” or “I need help God.” When we pray throughout our daily routine, we become more dependent on God and can often see Him at work in our situation.
Run your race! Each of us has been called to run the race for Christ. We don’t have to be Olympic runners. Ask God what He has called you to. Think about the discipline and training that athletes like Ryun undergo to compete at the highest level. Often, we need to have that same type of discipline to do what God is calling us to do. Remember that we don’t have to do it alone. God has given us His Holy Spirit and a body of believers to encourage us. Ask a friend or someone from your small group to hold you accountable if you are having a hard time sticking to what God has called you to do.
Reflect on what God has done. It can be easy to forget the things that God has done in our lives. Take time this week to sit down and write out some of the things that God has accomplished through you. It can be seeing a friend or family member come to Christ, hosting an outreach or starting a ministry. By writing them down, it will help us to remember the ways that God has worked and increase our faith when He challenges us to new things.
To read our entire interview with Jim Ryun, click here.