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By rowing, Olympian intends to worship

BEIJING (BP)–Jane Rumball may look like she’s only rowing when she steps into the boat with her Canadian teammates to compete in the Beijing Olympics.

Rumball sits in the stroke seat of the women’s eight event, which begins Aug. 10. She sits in front of the coxswain and sets the rhythm and pace that everyone behind her follows.

But for Rumball, her sport involves much more than just the physical and mental exertion it demands.

“I can’t sing at all, but I can row,” Rumball said. “That’s my expression of worship. I’ll be giving my best ‘thank you’ performance on the water on the biggest stage in the world.”

Rumball has good reason for using rowing as a way to thank and worship God -– because God used rowing to bring Rumball to faith in Jesus Christ.

Growing up on the east coast of Canada, Rumball was not raised in a Christian home. Shortly before starting college, her parents went through a nasty divorce. That nudged Rumball to leave her hometown and move to London, Ontario, and the University of Western Ontario.

“It was kind of like the perfect storm -– the culmination of my parents going through this divorce, and moving to a new place, and disillusioned a little bit with rowing as well,” Rumball said.

She tried out for the university’s rowing team and made it, but she will forever remember the reactions of the two young women who did not.

“One went off, kind of cursing the coach and the system, and saying it was completely unfair,” Rumball recalled. “The other girl, even though she went through the same process, seemed totally at peace with it. She was also very genuinely encouraging to everybody.”

The second girl, Laura Jackson, had been dubbed “Permasmile” by the rowing team.

“She seemed to always be smiling, and she smiled so big that you could barely see her pupils,” Rumball said. “I had no idea what color her eyes were.”

Jackson’s calm and dignified response to getting cut from the team left a permanent impression on Rumball. It also forced Rumball to ask a question for which she didn’t have an answer: How could this girl be so happy and at peace when she’s not even on the team?

“It really, really bugged me, because I had made the team, and I knew the reaction I would have had if I had been cut,” Rumball said. “I knew I would have been more like the other girl.”

A few months later, Rumball discovered the answer to the question that perplexed her. A representative from Athletes in Action, a Christian sports ministry, spoke in her kinesiology class. He asked the class to fill out a survey, which Rumball did.

Do you believe in God? Yes, she answered.

Do you read the Bible? No.

Last question: Do you want to know more about having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? Rumball hesitated.

“That’s the first time I’d ever actually heard of that even being a possibility,” she said. “I had no understanding of it before. I grew up going to church as more of a social checkmark, but I never really understood this whole personal relationship thing.

“I actually circled yes, and I don’t know why at the time.”

Rumball walked out of the class and immediately bumped into Jackson. She told Laura that she had just filled out an AIA survey. Come to find out, Jackson was involved with the AIA ministry on campus, and she invited Rumball to the next AIA event -– a dessert party/movie night for girls.

Rumball accepted, and she remembers what she saw when she walked into the room that night.

“It’s like I walked into a whole roomful of Lauras,” she said. “It was so unsettling to me.”

But yet Rumball could sense in that room a peace and joy that she couldn’t explain. She returned to her room later that night and began sobbing. She remembers saying to the Lord, “Whatever they have, that’s what I want.”

What they had was salvation through Jesus Christ. Rumball asked God to save her, and shortly thereafter one of the AIA staff members began working with Rumball and teaching her about the Bible and Christianity.

She met her husband Adam a few weeks later. He also had become a Christian during his time at Western Ontario University and is now pastor of High Park Baptist Church in Toronto.

Rumball continued to excel in rowing, even winning a world championship in the sport in 2006. She was at the Athens Olympics in 2004 as part of a medical team, but this will be her first time to compete in the Games.

For Rumball, though the world championship is usually a lot harder than making the Olympic team, there’s still something special about the Olympics.

“People come out of retirement just for the Olympics,” she said. “For me, it’s something that I’ve always wanted to be able to experience.”

Even more important to Rumball, however, is the legacy she leaves to her teammates. She has Laura Jackson to thank for that.

“Laura had such an impact on who I was, and obviously, she led me without even using words necessarily,” Rumball said. “She led me to understand that there’s more to life than what you can put on your resume, whether it’s sport or academic.

“Even though she didn’t make the varsity team, she had an eternal, lasting impact on me,” Rumball continued. “I want to be that same kind of role model with my team. I want to be able to be Christ’s light on the team.”
Tim Ellsworth, director of news and media relations at Union University, is covering the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing for Baptist Press.

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth

    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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