As a wife and as a 1500m specialist, Jenny Simpson finds that her private and public life complement each other. Despite the distinct challenges of each, she discovers that both spheres offer perspective necessary for success.
Jenny, a two-time Olympian and World Champion, aims to capture the American record in the 1500m, a goal which has long eluded her. On top of her rigid discipline and training, she communicates her desires to God in prayer.
“I believe in being specific in our prayers and working toward things that are very specific,” she says. “I think that God lays things on our hearts for a reason.”
The American record was 3:57.12. In a race in Paris, she crossed the finish at 3:57.22, missing the record by a mere tenth. A year later, Jenny led for a major part of the race in Monaco. In the final 100 meters, she was passed by another American, Shannon Rowbury, who claimed that 32-year-old record that Jenny had striven to break.
As she crossed the finish line at a time of 3:57.30, a crushed Jenny knew the status of the record. She responded well to the disappointment, with grace. But in the days following, she had to face the reality of her emotions.
Jenny admits that feeling upset and angry may seem “dramatic,” but she explains that it wasn’t “just a record that I hoped to get. For me, this is every day of my life, and this is what I’m working toward.”
Disappointed, Jenny wondered why God would place this goal in her heart. “When you have such a strong conviction about something and then it doesn’t really happen, even in the intensity of that moment, I just think, ‘Why have You laid this on my heart if it’s not happening?’”
In her disappointment and sense of betrayal by God, she heard His voice again. It was at church the Sunday after the race when the worship leader asked, “Are you satisfied by taking on the character of Christ?”
“There are those moments where God speaks directly to you and it stops you directly in your tracks with the clarity with which God just spoke to you,” she says. “He said, ‘I’m very, very much here, and I’m very much aware of the situation, and this is something that I need you to hear from Me.’”
Jenny realized that even though she didn’t have control over what happened on the track, she was responsible for her reactions. The rhetorical question posed by her worship leader caused her to address what she was feeling. “Whether it’s jealousy or anger or spitefulness, or whatever these things are,” she says, “there’s a difference between just totally denying that you have those emotions in the first place and recognizing that we all have a human nature.”
Once the emotions were confronted, she thought of 2 Corinthians 10:5, saying, “I’m consciously going to take those thoughts captive [and make them obedient to Christ] and choose something different." Jenny continues, "I think that’s what it means to take on the character of Christ.”
Married since 2010, Jenny doesn’t feel the kind of rivalry in her marriage that is present in the sport of track. Her marriage isn’t focused on getting ahead of the other person.
“My favorite part [of my marriage],” she says, “is that I always have somebody on my side.”
Warmly, Jenny says that her relationship with her husband Jason is a “total luxury.” Loneliness strikes many elite athletes, often in boredom or travel. Relationships with other track athletes are usually polite and professional, but not especially intimate. Despite working a full time job, Jason attends every meet of hers that he can and sometimes trains with her.
She admits that track, at the elite level, is a very selfish sport. “Your time and energy are very narrowly focused on what you want to get out of it,” she says. The selfishness that is necessary to uphold such a career can be detrimental to a committed relationship.
By actively cultivating personal selflessness, she invests as much into her marriage as she does in her athletic career. Instead of competing against each other, Jenny and Jason compete for the other. “We’re called to outdo each other in kindness. I really think that Jason and I do that,” she says. “I think whether it’s a friendship or business partnership or marriage, I think that’s really hard to find these days.”
Sometimes, the challenges in her marriage parallel what she works through in her sport. “The practice of working on yourself and taking on the character of Christ challenges you to be more self-aware and to really examine yourself and how you’re reacting to things.”
With Jason’s support, she is as committed as ever to training and competing for the American record. She acknowledges, though, that the purpose of this pursuit could be fulfilled in a different way than she expects.
“I really believe that what’s been laid on my heart and this hard work that I’ve been putting in will absolutely be fulfilled in some way,” she says. “I’ll know when that day has come.”
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