After swimming for more than 15 years, Kelsi Worrell broke the American record and has qualified for her first Olympic Games in the 100m butterfly. It has been a long road getting there, but the 22-year-old has stayed focused and true to her goal: to glorify God in all that she does, in the pool and out.
As the oldest of 6 kids with a total Type A personality, she pursues swimming with a passionate dedication. After years on club teams and then her high school team, Kelsi moved from her home in New Jersey and signed with the University of Louisville, where she made huge strides throughout her four years with the Lady Cardinals.
Still, distractions have always been a struggle for Kelsi. Battling the constant pull of social media, the frustrations of injuries and sicknesses, and the struggle of establishing her identity, she has to work hard to stay afloat. In preparation for the Olympics, she deleted all the apps off her phone, but conquering the other distractions has not been as simple.
In high school, injury and sickness weren’t issues. But several weeks before the championship trials after her freshman year of college, she sprained her ankle. “The best part of my swimming is my kicks, and that took away my weapon,” explains Kelsi, “I went to the meet and cried after every race. At the end, I had this realization that I was not glorifying God with my attitude.” That summer, she got to go home with her family. That summer, she saw her little brother choose to trust Christ with his life. She felt rejuvenated.
The next summer in 2014, she was diagnosed with mono right before the U.S. Nationals. At the meet, she had hoped to make the U.S. national team, but her poor health stood in the way. “I did cry again,” says Kelsi, “but I think that just means I’m human.” She had a different perspective this time around, too. She chose to trust God’s will and await His bigger and better plan. “My ankle sprain and mono, I think I’m grateful for them now. They’ve made me a tougher athlete and more faithful to Him.”
Perhaps one of the most difficult distractions Kelsi faces is finding who she is in the midst of it all. “It’s so important to be grounded in your faith and know that, no matter what, you’re a child of God. Just last weekend, I was saying ‘Jesus loves me’ behind the blocks,’” she recalls. In athletics, it’s easy to find her identity in the water, in something she’s good at. Despite the voices in her head insisting she’s nothing more than a swimmer, her parents, Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), and her quiet times have really helped her narrow her focus on God.
Her parents have always cheered her on, reminding her of who she is in Christ. At FCA, the leadership encourage the athletes to “know [they’re] sons and daughters of God.” Kelsi says, “I’m able—not that I put on a swimming mask—but I can just really let everything down and not have to worry about swimming.”
Inspired by another athlete’s pre-dawn time with God, Kelsi loves to read her Bible and pray every morning before practice. Ultimately, she knows that all of the things that distract her and attempt to define her will fail her—that her sport will fail her, others will fail her, but that Jesus won’t.
Her focus on Christ has given her the boldness to refuse world-given identities. “Through it all, I’ve reminded myself of Whose I am and that I just want to glorify God with my actions in the pool,” says Kelsi. In the end, it’s all about God.
To remind herself, Kelsi has 1 Corinthians 9:25 inscribed on her NCAA ring, which says, “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” An Olympic medal is not her main goal, but to glorify God: “I hope I will be remembered as a woman of faith who happened to swim, too.”
Copyright © 2016 Struggle and Triumph