This time of year brings about nostalgia for sports fans. Sports fans will tune in to watch NFL teams fight for a spot in the playoffs, college basketball, and bowl games. If you are an Olympic fan like myself, you will likely be watching figure skating on TV especially during this Olympic year.
If you follow figure skating closely you may notice a notable athlete missing from the field of competitors at this year’s U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose, California.
Gracie Gold was a member of the 2014 Sochi bronze medal-winning team. She narrowly missed a spot on the podium in the ladies singles event by placing fourth. As an Olympic veteran and two-time US national champion, she was a favorite to make the Olympic team again in 2018.
In October, Gold announced that she was withdrawing from all competitions leading up to the US Figure Skating Championships in order to seek treatment for an eating disorder, anxiety and depression.
A few weeks ago Gold withdrew from the U.S. Figure Skating Championships as well, eliminating her from any consideration for a spot on the 2018 Olympic team.
The revelation of Gold’s eating disorder should not be surprising to fans. Body image issues have plagued the sport of figure skating for years. Many notable athletes such as Jenny Kirk and Yulia Lipnitskaya have openly shared their struggle with body image, eating disorders, and the extreme pressures faced while competing in an “image sport.”
The choice Gold made when she withdrew from the US Figure Skating Championships is a reminder that sports and medals are not everything. Sports are a wonderful gift from God. Competition can be an act of worship. However, Scripture calls us to be stewards of our bodies and to glorify God in all that we do (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Gold’s decision to take care of her body and seek treatment for her eating disorder is glorifying God. The Bible tells us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139), and our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). It is not God’s desire for Gold or anyone else to struggle with an eating disorder, anxiety or depression.
I am sure that winning an individual Olympic medal was a dream of Gold’s like many other Olympic athletes out there. Choosing to let go of that goal (at least for this Olympic cycle) is a scary decision, one that takes a lot of humility.
She may never have another Olympic opportunity. With her withdraw, Gold has surrendered a dream that she has been working towards her entire life.
The Bible offers encouragement to Christian athletes that may be experiencing a similar scary decision about their sport. Ultimately God has a plan for us that goes beyond athletics. One that promises us hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). This is a truth I hope Gold finds peace in.
The Bible celebrates perseverance and endurance through trials but it also celebrates knowing physical limitations and boundaries. As an athlete it can be difficult to discern your bodies physical limits when they get in the way of achieving your ultimate goal. This is something Gold did. She put her mental and physical health above the Olympics, and that is something to be celebrated.
After Gracie Gold announced her withdraw from competition in October, fellow figure skater Adam Rippon had this to say: “I think it’s really hard as an athlete that you have to share your ups and downs and not being perfect. But I think for someone like her, a high-profile athlete stepping away, it shows that she’s adult, It’s a very mature decision. It’s brave. It’s scary. But it’s smart, and if she feels it’s something she needs to do, as her friend I support her 100 percent.”
I don't know where Adam is in his faith journey, but, from the Christian worldview I agree with his comments. I celebrate Gold’s bravery for knowing her physical limitations and boundaries, for being public with her struggle, for withdrawing from competition and seeking treatment. It is a tough decision to make. It is brave. It is scary. It is counter-cultural.
In a culture that tells athletes to “toughen up buttercup”, “deal with it later”, and “no pain no gain,” we need more athletes like Gracie Gold who recognize that their health is far more important than their athletic career and say “I am not okay, I need help.”
Gracie Gold’s story reminds me that the athletes we watch when we tune into the Olympics are astonishing athletes but they are also human. They have very real struggles and they too, need a very real Savior.