Many elite athletes put in significant time, money and hard work to become experts in their sports with one goal in mind: to make it to the Olympic Games. But for Estonian athlete Tiidrek Nurme, running in the Olympics isn’t his goal.
Being an Olympian is not the most important or even the most difficult pursuit in his life. Training and competing come easy for him, Tiidrek says, but there is another part of life as an Olympian that looks more like a battlefield.
Tiidrek, who ran the 1,500-meter race in the 2008 Beijing Games and who will run the marathon in Rio, says the challenge lies in his purpose for running and his attitude as he trains and competes.
“The real battle,” he says, “is not running. It’s not racing in a race. The battle in my life mostly is trying to do it for Jesus.”
Because God has given him the ability and talent to run, Tiidrek’s goal is to show God’s grace, goodness and glory through his running. The hard part, he says, is to continually choose to give God the glory instead of taking it for himself.
“If I want to glorify God, at the same time I want to do it for myself, to get glory for myself,” Tiidrek says. “I want a new national record or personal record because I want to be more in the picture. I want to go to the Olympics so people talk about me more. So it’s a very sinful way of thinking, which I think is affecting every person.”
Tiidrek, one of three people to ever run both the 1,500m and marathon, has also noticed in the past few years that God often puts him in situations where he must choose to show others God’s love and grace through his actions. Because many Estonians subscribe to a form of Christianity that is merely cultural, Tiidrek has found that actions show more of God’s grace than words.
One time that he demonstrated grace was during a 2015 marathon in Valencia, Spain. He paced another runner, Lily Luik, one of the historic Estonian triplets who has qualified for the marathon in Rio, and helped her finish the race.
Tiidrek waited for Lily to catch him at the 30k mark, about eight miles from the finish. When she met him there and told him that her legs were very tired, Tiidrek told her, “Don’t worry. I will take care of you. I will run the pace you need. I am your pacemaker. Just tell me what pace I should run.”
The two finished the race with Lily setting a personal record and qualifying for the Olympics. Later that night, she told Tiidrek that “it was like God sent you at the 30k point.” He responded that it must have been God because there was no other way he could have known that she was in trouble.
“I can say as long as I’ve been a Christian, but more often in the last few years, God has put me in situations where I share His grace, His presence, through action,” Tiidrek says. “That’s something very unique. Very simple things can speak about Jesus.”
Another challenge for Tiidrek as he trains is staying in Christian community and regular communication with God. Sometimes his busy schedule or other obstacles get in the way of time with God.
When he isn’t reading the Bible regularly or “sharing life with Jesus,” Tiidrek notices that something is missing.
“It takes a few days, but I find myself empty. I find myself in a struggle, and I find myself in the worries,” he says. “And I find myself being sad because of lack of communication and needing grace from God.”
So he tries to spend time with God and keep in communication with Him every day, not just on competition days or during a race.
“I must pray very often. Sometimes it’s just a few words; it’s just saying, ‘God, I do it for You. It’s not for myself. Thank You that I can do it for You. Praise the Lord.’ Sometimes if training or the race is very tense, just a few words, like, ‘Praise, glory to You, only for You.’ That’s something very simple which I can keep in my mind,” he says.
“Before the race, I try to stay with Jesus, but during the competition day, something happens. If I think more of Jesus only on competition day, then I find myself to be selfish. And that’s why I try to pray.”
Copyright © 2016 Struggle and Triumph