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Champion weight lifter’s sights set on Olympics & changing lives

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (BP)–Ashley Austin, a junior at the
University of Southern Mississippi, stood before the judges
at the 1997 Collegiate National Weight Lifting Championship
in Savannah, Ga.
Before him was a barbell with weights totaling 400-plus
pounds. Filled with a confidence that was to him
supernatural in origin, Austin bent down and lifted the
weight to his shoulders. In a quick, jerk-like motion, the
21-year-old raised the weight above his head, spreading his
legs in a scissor-like fashion.
Then he stood straight and tall, with nearly three
times his body weight over his head until the judges gave
him notice he had successfully completed the clean and jerk
This lift, plus a near-350-pound snatch lift, was
enough to give Austin the gold medal in the 91-kilogram
category last fall. He was a national champion, finishing 16
pounds ahead of the silver medalist.
Austin credits success that day to a combination of
three factors.
“First of all, it is a gift from the Lord,” he said. “I
don’t deserve any credit. I give it all to God.
“Second is the hard work and dedication,” he said.
“This hasn’t always been easy. On many a workout I wanted to
cry I was in so much pain.
“Third, I couldn’t have done it without all the
Austin said literally hundreds of people were praying
for him that day, many of them people he had met that summer
in the Pacific Northwest where he served on a revival team
as a Baptist Student Union summer missionary from the
Hattiesburg-based University of Southern Mississippi.
“I struggled with whether or not to go to summer
missions,” Austin recalled. His goals in weight lifting were
leading toward last October’s nationals. Being on the
mission field meant he would not be able to work out on a
daily basis like he could if he stayed home.
After praying, Austin was convinced God wanted him to
be a BSU summer missionary.
“The summer of the revival was remarkable,” he said. “I
would get to preach five or six times a week.”
The team traveled to churches in Oregon, Washington
State and Idaho. They would lead in revival services Sunday
through Thursday and go witnessing during the day.
When he was able to find the equipment, Austin would
work out, but nothing like the rigorous pace he would have
kept had he been home.
“When in training, I will lift three hours a day, five
days a week,” he said.
However, the experience on the mission field did allow
something else — contact with hundreds of Christians who
committed to pray for Austin when he went to the nationals,
Oct 11-12.
Austin said he could feel those prayers. “I warmed up
around 12 noon. Usually during warmups I’m nervous. This
time I was relaxed, calm, loose and flexible. I was ready to
go after it.
“I was almost crying during the warm-ups. I was doing
so well. I knew I was going to do good. I knew all these
people were praying for me,” he said.
There are two kinds of lifts in weight-lifting
competition: the clean and jerk, and the snatch. Competitors
have three tries with both types of lifts. The best weights
from both lifts are combined for a total score.
Austin hit two out of three of his snatches, and all
three of his clean and jerks.
“The guy behind me had to add about 30 pounds to his
last lift to try and beat me,” he said.
To Austin, weight lifting is more than just the thrill
of competition.
“When I first got involved in weight lifting, it was to
be involved in weight lifting. When I accepted Christ at 17,
I thought of ways to use weight lifting to share my faith,”
he recounted.
In his six years of competitive lifting, he has won
eight gold medals and two silver medals, including
back-to-back state championships for the John Curtis High
School weight-lifting team of River Ridge, La.
Austin’s parents were divorced when he was very young.
He went to church with his mom and sister and was baptized
at age 5, but he had no idea what it was about.
“At about 10 or 11 we stopped going to church at all,”
Austin said.
Things began changing in Austin’s life after he
attended a youth function at Metairie (La.) Baptist Church.
“Two deacons from the church came to visit me and
witnessed to me. It as an awesome experience. After that I
went to church every time the doors were open.
“At 17, I realized that I had never really called upon
the name of the Lord,” Austin said. “I knelt by the side of
my bed and prayed out to God. On that day I became a new
Austin is frequently asked to speak before Fellowship
of Christian Athletes groups, youth groups and other church
“I want to share the gift God has given me,” he said.
After attending graduate school or seminary, Austin
wants to be a college or professional strength coach in
addition to doing ministry.
“I feel called to the ministry, to preach,” he said,
“but not necessarily as a pastor. I would like to go out
West, someplace out of the Bible belt where there are not so
many Christians.”
His ultimate goal is to make the Olympic team for the
2000 Olympiad in Sydney, Australia.
“If I can win the gold medal in Sydney, it will give me
more opportunities to share my faith,” he said.
“In 1 Corinthians 9:24, Paul says that in a race all
run but only one gets the prize. We need to run to win, to
give it our all. We all need to do that.”

    About the Author

  • Carl M. White