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Olympic archer: Faith is most important

EDITOR’S NOTE: Tim Ellsworth, director of news and media relations at Union University, is covering the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing for Baptist Press.

BEIJING (BP)–As much as she hates to admit it, Jennifer Nichols acknowledges that her archery training isn’t full of thrills.

“There’s some really boring training time in archery sometimes,” Nichols said.

The U.S. Olympic archer shoots at her target from a distance of 70 meters. After every six shots, she walks to the target to retrieve her arrows. She usually shoots at least 120 arrows every day -– sometimes as many as 200.

Do the math, and that means she spends a lot of time walking.

So Nichols and her sister Mandy, who trains with her, found a way to redeem the time -– by reciting passages from Scripture. Jennifer has memorized the first five chapters of Proverbs. Her sister has made it through six or seven chapters. They recite verses to each other as they walk back and forth to the targets.

“We want to verbally speak it so it gets into our lives and into our heads,” Nichols said.

You don’t have to talk to Nichols for long before discovering that the Bible indeed has found its way into her life. Her Scripture-saturated language is proof that the Bible memory exercises have worked, just as her prowess with a bow has proven the success of her archery training.

Nichols is the top-ranked recurve archer in the United States and is ranked ninth in the world. She begins her competition in the Beijing Olympics Aug. 9 with the qualification round followed by the elimination rounds beginning Aug. 12.

The 24-year-old Nichols is the United States’ best hope for a medal in the competition. But Nichols discovered during the 2004 Olympics in Athens -– when she placed ninth -– that winning a medal is not her top priority.

“After that year, I realized that winning and my achievements in archery became a little too important to me,” Nichols said. “I had formed my identity around those things.”

Such an attitude can be common among athletes, who face a constant emphasis on winning. By placing her security on the outcome of her matches, Nichols went through plenty of emotional ups and downs.

Now, with God working in her life, her outlook has changed.

“Right now, that’s kind of where the theme is for me -– looking to Him and identifying with Him, rather than basing all my security on my archery,” Nichols said.

Her father Brent has helped, reminding her that archery is what she does. It’s not who she is.

But doesn’t that mindset lead to complacency? Doesn’t it douse the competitive fire and make losing more palatable?

Hardly. For Nichols, the opposite is true.

“This does not discourage me from working hard to be skilled in my sport or to develop a high standard or performance,” she wrote on her blog. “Rather, it frees me to perform my best, train my hardest and shoot my strongest because I need not fear failure nor my weaknesses. Because I am living for the glory of God, offering all that I can, all that I am, I will be acceptable in the eyes of my Lord. I strive to trust Him to determine the outcome of competitions as well as the path of my life. He is faithful.”
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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