August 03, 2016

Go for the Gold with God by Steph Beth Nickel

This lady right here—gold medal-winning, world record-setting Paralympian Deb Willowstaught me so much about perseverance and overcoming one's circumstances. She also taught me what it looks like to go for the gold with God. 

When I saw the theme for this month, “A Metaphor from the Olympics,” I was thrilled. Having co-authored Deb’s memoir, Living Beyond My Circumstances, I knew I had a storehouse of information and inspiration. 

As writers and as Christians, how can we, too, go for the gold?

Dream big!

When Deb was a girl, she sat watching the Olympics with her dad. When she saw the swimming events, she said, "I want to do that."

Now, because Deb has cerebral palsy, her limbs don't always do what she wants them to. Many parents would have encouraged their child to set the bar a little lower, but not the Willows. They provided her with every opportunity to achieve her dreamsand she did.

What can we learn from this? 

If there's something seemingly impossible that we want to achieve, let's prayerfully ask God for wisdom and direction and do all we can to achieve our dreams (unless, of course, the Lord directs us on another path). It may just pay off in ways we'd never imagined.

Commit to Practice, Practice, and More Practice

Deb didn't just show up at an event and say, "Well, I'm here. Let's do this!" Of course not.

She spent countless hours in the pool strengthening her limbs and learning how to propel herself down the lane ... as well as learning to propel her wheelchair through a slalom course, play wheelchair soccer and bocci ball. 

When she felt like it, she practiced. When she didn't feel like it, she practiced. When a migraine hit, if at all possible, she practiced.

This woman's determination has taught me that anything worth achieving is worth hours of planning, preparation, and practice—even when we don't feel like it. This is true whether we're on our way to becoming a record-setting athlete or the best freelance columnist our local newspaper has ever hired.

Press Through the Hard Times

I already mentioned Deb's migraines, but one thing especially impressed me. As she said, the organizers of a Paralympic event won't reschedule simply because an athlete has a headache. Deb has competed when her body wanted nothing more than to stay in bed. 

Deb also tells of another Paralympian with whom she played wheelchair soccer. During the match, there was a loud crunch. This man's foot had gotten squashed between his footplate and that of another athlete's. The truly amazing thing is this: he refused to let the doctor put on a cast until after his swimming events. Talk about dedication.

Do I have this kind of dedication when I face hard times in my own life? Too often I'd have to say no. In fact, I can't even imagine persevering in these scenarios. What about you?

Don't Give Up When You Don't Achieve Gold

Deb was away from home competing in the Games. Normally, she would get in touch with her family after she had won a medal (or several medals). On this particular occasion, she hadn't won any medals or set any world records, but she did want to talk to her family. So she called home and who should answer but her brother.

He asked, "Did you win?"

When Deb said she hadn't, he asked why she was calling.


It is important to do the best we canto do everything in the name of Jesus as it says in Colossians 3:17—but that doesn't necessarily mean we'll win a gold medal or hit the best seller list. However, one thing's for sure, if we give up, we never will.

By the way, Deb and all the members of her family are extremely close and have great fun together.

Give God the Glory

Here's Deb's perspective on what's truly important:
"In a very real sense, the medals I won are worthless. But when I share my faith with others, now that is pure gold. If back on that June day I did not swim my race, how many opportunities to share God's love would I have missed?" (from Living Beyond My Circumstances)

It reminds me of 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, which says, "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified" (ESV).

Will you go for the gold this day? And will you give God all the glory whether you achieve your dreams or not?

Steph Beth Nickel is a freelance writer and editor (among other things). She seeks to go for the gold from her home in southwestern Ontario. Deb and Steph are currently working on a follow-up book that will cover the years after Deb’s active involvement in sports. They’ve given it the working title Still Living Beyond My Circumstances.


  1. Thanks, Steph, for this uplifting story about Deb Willows. Deb's perspective, as quoted from your telling of her story, is remarkable and something that we can all learn from.

  2. Anonymous6:33 am GMT-7

    Love this! Thank you.

  3. Thanks for sharing Deborah's story and the lessons we can all take away from it. What a remarkable, persevering woman!


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