Strength through trials

Plagued by illness for two years, Cate Campbell shares how she triumphed over her struggles to become the world’s current 100m freestyle champion

Cate Campbell

Returning to the pool after many setbacks, 21-year-old Cate showed the world what they had been missing when she beat the current Olympic champion to claim gold at the 2013 World Championships.

"It's strange to strive your whole life for something and then achieve it in under a minute," Cate commented afterwards.

At 16 she took home her first dual Olympic bronze medals, following up with bronze at the 2009 World Championships and was on a fast track to claiming gold before sickness foiled her plans.

She was devastated not to qualify for the 2011 World Championships in Shanghai after suffering a bout of glandular fever in 2010 and the fatigue that followed.

Making a comeback after qualifying for the 2012 London Olympics, Cate won a gold medal in the 100m freestyle team relay but was ruled out of her individual event with a case of pancreatitis and says she literally watched four years of hard work "go down the toilet".

"Throughout the whole process I have learned that everything happens for a reason," Cate says. "That even when your direction in life is seemingly taken away from you, it usually means that you have the wrong focus anyway."

Cate had to learn to be patient with herself through her struggles but says she realises now that God had also been patient with her, gently guiding her back to what was most important in life.

Her parents had imparted knowledge about God to her as a young girl growing up in Malawi, but Cate says it took time for her to progress from "acknowledging God to actually wanting to know Him".

She had heard many times that God had come to earth as Jesus to take the death penalty for her sins so that she could be forgiven, yet the reality of it was slow to sink in.

"I always knew of God's goodness and love. I think it [giving my life to Jesus Christ] happened over several years," she recalls.

"After understanding all the things He has given me, it felt natural to give my life to God. What else did I have to give in return?"

After migrating with her family to Australia in 2000 with the hopes of seeking better treatment for her handicapped brother, Cate poured all her efforts into competitive swimming.

Cate Campbell in London
London 2012 Olympics: Alicia Coutts, Cate Campbell, Brittany Elmslie and Melanie Schlanger
celebrate gold in the 4x100m freestyle relay

Her hard work paid off with initial success on the world stage but when disaster struck Cate realised that she had become too consumed by her sport.

"During my two years of injury and illness I learned a lot about myself, about God and about our relationship," she explains.

"Up until then I was a Christian, no doubt. I believed in Jesus and that He had the power to take away my sins, but I was a fair-weather Christian.

"I prayed, went to church, but God did not play a very significant role in my day-to-day actions or thoughts.

"I was more concerned with what I wanted, which was a career in swimming, and I was relentless in my pursuit of this goal to the detriment of my spiritual life.

"Once swimming was taken away from me through injury and illness, I was lost, I felt that my direction and purpose for life had been taken from me and I didn't know how to cope."

It was at this point Cate understood that she could not base her identity and purpose on her swimming career, which will always be uncertain and fickle.

Instead she realised that God is the only one that will never change and she needed to rely on His love, purpose and promise of eternal life to get her through the hard times.

"It was a hard lesson to learn, but I have come out of it a much better person with a stronger reliance on God," she says.

"I just know that God is always there; even in my darkest hour I will not be alone.

"He gives me strength when I am in need of it and a shoulder to cry on. He helps me look past the here and now and look toward the future that I will share with Him (in heaven) someday."

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