BEIJING (BP)–Prancing around the house in a Mary Lou Retton leotard, a 4-year-old Stephanie Brown Trafton wanted to be just like the gold medal gymnast from the 1984 Olympics.
“I think a lot of young girls looked up to her during that Olympic season,” Trafton said. “She was graceful, beautiful and full of energy. I wanted to wear the USA uniform just like her.”
At 6-4, Trafton doesn’t bear much physical resemblance to the petite Retton. But her dreams of following Retton to the Olympics came true in Athens in 2004. This year in Beijing, Trafton is again representing her country at the discus competition, which begins Saturday.
“I plan on going into the event with a determination to make it onto the medal stand,” said Trafton, a native of Arroyo, Calif. “My first round will be doing just what it takes to make finals. In the final round I will be confident that I have the ability to compete for a medal.”
Trafton has more on her mind in Beijing than just the competition. She also is leading a Bible study in Olympic Village for any athletes who want to attend. Her purpose is to help encourage and support the athletes during their long time away from home and to provide an environment in which they can pray for their needs and thank God for their accomplishments.
Her personal journey to faith in Jesus Christ began shortly after she graduated from Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo in 2003. Trafton says her faith in the Lord was “very weak” as she was growing up. After graduating from college, she found herself with a life that should have been fulfilling -– a college degree, success in sports, a strong relationship with her boyfriend of five years.
“But I still felt like I had climbed the ladder of success only to find out that the prize at the top didn’t mean much,” Trafton said. “The prize I had won wasn’t lasting or eternal, and it didn’t seem to have any purpose.”
Trafton began searching for purpose in her life, and she says God began to pursue her heart.
“After lots of reading and praying, which was hard at first, God put it on my heart to take a chance with Him and start exercising a little faith,” she recounted. “I had always been taught that reality was only what could be seen, heard or touched, so acting on faith was a big step for me. I asked God to help me in my unbelief, and by His grace He started acting in my life in ways that could not be ignored.”
The more steps Trafton took in God’s direction, the clearer the path became to her. Finally, Trafton said she discovered that God’s love was the ultimate eternal gift.
“I knew that I had found the purpose that most of us seek,” she said. “I had nothing to lose and everything to gain in Him.”
The 2008 track and field season has been a successful one for Trafton. But prior to making the Olympic team, she began to lose confidence in her abilities. She wasn’t sure she would qualify for Beijing and wasn’t sure she would win a medal even if she did.
Friends and family members kept asking if she was going to achieve various levels of success, and Trafton always replied in the affirmative. But deep down, the doubts persisted.
Then one day, after taking her insecurities and fears to God in prayer, she said she had a breakthrough.
“God put in my heart one of the most commonly used phrases by Christian athletes — one that I had been ignoring for a long time,” Trafton said.
That verse was Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”
In thinking about that verse, one word jumped at Trafton: “can.”
“I realized that Christ has the ability to make the impossible possible in my life,” she said. “I believe now that I can do the things that He has placed in my path while looking to Him for strength.
“The outcome of my season is out of my direct control, but as long as I stay disciplined, I know that I ‘can,'” she added. “If it is God’s will, I will accomplish my goal of winning an Olympic medal.”
Tim Ellsworth, director of news and media relations, is covering the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing for Baptist Press.