EDITOR’S NOTE: Tim Ellsworth, who was in Beijing Aug. 6-16, is continuing his coverage of the 2008 Olympics for Baptist Press. Ellsworth, director of news and media relations at Union University, has been assisted with photography by David McIntyre, a freelancer based in Asia. Baptist Press will publish features about Christian athletes in the Olympics and give results of their competition as well as highlight and summarize the Summer Games, which end Aug. 25. Also, Tim will blog about each day’s highlights.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Laura Wilkinson may have to fight back tears when she steps onto the diving platform for the final time during the Beijing Olympics.
“It’s kind of bittersweet,” Wilkinson said. “It’s my third Olympics, but it’s also going to be my last Olympics. It’s kind of a farewell at the same time. I get really excited but really emotional about it a lot.”
Wilkinson, who won a gold medal in Sydney in 2000 and finished fifth in Athens in 2004, will begin her competition in the women’s 10-meter platform event on Wednesday.
It won’t be the first time that Wilkinson has gotten emotional on the platform. Ten years ago, during the 1998 Goodwill Games, she had an experience during her competition that changed her life. But first, some stage-setting is necessary.
Wilkinson became a Christian when she was 8 and “really got into church and God’s Word and was really excited about it,” she said.
That lasted until her freshman year of high school. That’s when she began noticing some people from her church youth group acting one way at church and a different way outside of church. Such hypocrisy made her uncomfortable, and Wilkinson slowly stopped going to church altogether. She became just like those people, she admits.
In her sophomore year in college, she hit the bottom. Her grades started falling. She was mired in sinful attitudes and behaviors. She was miserable, but her diving was going well.
“Diving was the only stable thing I had in my life,” Wilkinson said. “As long as I have diving,” she thought. “I’m going to be fine.”
But then her grip on the sport began to weaken. During her dives, she started to get disoriented in the air. Rather than fulfilling her, diving began to frighten her.
That’s where the 1998 Goodwill Games come in.
“I didn’t think I was going to survive the meet,” Wilkinson said. “I was so disoriented, and I was terrified. I realized in the middle of that meet that I’d taken control of things and everything was slipping through my fingers. I had just made a mess of stuff.”
Wilkinson knew that she needed to recommit her life to the Lord.
“He’s got plans for me,” she thought. “He knows better than me.”
So while standing on the platform before one of her dives, Wilkinson surrendered her life once again to God. Strangely enough, she ended up winning that meet.
“I realized it really wasn’t me,” she said. “It was all God. It wasn’t God saying, ‘I’m going to have you win every meet.’ It was God saying, ‘Look what happens when you put your life in my hands. I have a plan for you. I have a future for you.'”
Her life hasn’t been the same since. Now she knows why she’s diving, and her life has purpose.
“I’m focusing on God,” Wilkinson said. “He gave me this talent, and I want to worship Him with it and glorify Him with it. I know I don’t have to win to do that. Whatever place I come in, He’s going to be glorified through that if I honor Him. I want to be a graceful winner and I want to be a graceful loser.”
Wilkinson and her husband Eriek Hulseman live in The Woodlands, Texas, and are active members of Champion Forest Baptist Church in Houston. David Upchurch, minister to young married adults at the church, said Wilkinson is practically a celebrity there.
“People know who she is,” Upchurch said. “I would say she’s larger than life, but that’s not the first thing that comes across when you meet her. She’s a real person, very humble about all of that stuff.”
Whatever the outcome of the Beijing Olympics, Wilkinson, 30, knows that her days as a competitive diver are nearing an end. After the Olympics she intends to be more involved in the Laura Wilkinson Foundation, raising money to build a new facility for her diving team. She and her husband also want to have children.
But even though diving may not play such a prominent role in her life in the future, Wilkinson is thankful for the way in which the sport has taught her about God.
“Jumping off the platform is a lot like taking a step of faith,” she said. “It’s really trusting God, even during something scary. Diving itself has been a great learning tool for me to help me understand God’s Word.”