Three-time Olympic medalist Lauryn Williams is in a lane of her own. After an illustrious, decade-long professional career, the Detroit native joined an exclusive club of athletes to earn spots on the podium at both the Summer and Winter Games and is the first American woman to do so.
As a world-champion sprinter-turned-bobsledder, Lauryn is a decorated competitor on the track and on the ice, resulting in honors from her alma mater with an induction into the University of Miami Hall of Fame, and an induction into Athletes in Action’s Hall of Faith.
But included in her individual storybook successes comes a tale of redemption that highlights her champion-like character in her toughest moments and reveals her response under unimaginable pressure while the entire world watched her every move.
In both trips to her first two Olympics, Lauryn was involved in breathtakingly flawed exchanges in the 4X100 relay race, disqualifying the U.S. women’s team and eliminating opportunities for both squads to reach the podium.
“I think people might have been secretly thinking or saying, ‘Ok, the first time was a mistake. The second time, what happened, girl?’ So I felt very alone in that moment,” Lauryn said during an interview for the Athletes in Action film, Struggle and Triumph.
Refusing to relive her mishap in Athens where she walked the last 200 meters of the race, Lauryn defiantly picked up the dropped baton in Beijing and ran to the finish line. The USA team was again disqualified, but Lauryn refused to let either performance be career-defining.
Still more heartache and disappointment followed. Two months after her disappointing relay performance and a fourth-place finish in the 100-meter race in Beijing, Lauryn’s father died following a long battle with leukemia.
Because of his decades-long fight with cancer, her father’s health was declining as Lauryn’s star was rising. She joined him in his fight from the hospital in Greece in as he did his best to support her in her first quest for Olympic gold. He watched the Beijing Games from his hospital bed back home, too weak to travel.
After his passing, Lauryn had little time to grieve. She felt the emotional and physical toll of losing her father catch up with her during her next season.
“I didn’t allow myself to process everything that had just happened to me — trauma after trauma; I was just trying to hold myself together and move forward,” she recalls.
Lauryn took a season off to reexamine her passion, rediscover her identity and reconnect with Christ. With the support and encouragement of her friends, family, coaches and AIA staff members, she returned to racing with a renewed focus, determined to compete in the London Olympics. This time, as an alternate on the 4x100 relay team, she ran to a first place in the qualifying round, putting Tianna Madison, Allyson Felix, Bianca Knight and Carmelita Jeter in position to cruise to a dazzling victory in world record-breaking fashion.
“I did what I was supposed to do to help that team get to the gold,” she says. “And that’s far more important than my being the person who was on the track [in the final race].
“I knew in that moment that there was nothing but God that got me to this point. And what a sweet [victory] – to have gone through something over a period of eight years!”
Shortly after retiring from a career on the track, Lauryn stepped on the ice in hopes of making the U.S. women’s bobsled team following a recommendation from fellow track star-turned-bobsledder Lolo Jones. She earned her spot, and with blazing performances at the Sochi Olympics in the two-woman bobsleigh, Lauryn pushed her team to a second-place finish, narrowly missing a championship title. She became one of only five athletes in history to claim medals at both the Summer and Winter Games.
“I knew that it was not my moment; it was the team’s moment,” she says.
Unburdened by the weight of the world’s expectations, Lauryn has continued to take all of her experiences in great stride.
“You’re not validated by how many times you win or how many medals you get or all these different things,” she says. “You’re validated by your integrity and the way you live your life. And if you’re a Christian, you are living your life for the Lord.”
Copyright © 2016 Struggle and Triumph