‘Felt like home’

Top Australian Olympic swimmer Elka Whalan found the missing piece

Elka Whalan
MELBOURNE - DECEMBER 7, 2002: Elka after winning the 400m freestyle at the Telstra World Cup Shortcourse. (Photo Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

Media personality and former Olympian Elka Whalan felt "there was something missing" despite being one of the world's best freestyle swimmers.

Elka held the 200m freestyle world record from 2001-2004 and had medalled in almost every meet that she ever competed in but says she distinctly felt "there needed to be something bigger than the pool".

"I was at the top of my game, but I just didn't have contentment," Elka expresses.

She grew up in Manly, NSW, with a Jewish mother and Christian father who sent her to swimming training and Sunday school from age four.

Elka was fixated on self-achievement for most of her swimming career but says she often prayed to God when she needed help.

"Before my best and most nervous races I would kneel down and say, 'Oh God, please be with me,' because I thought, 'I'm either going to throw up or I'm going to dive in and absolutely freeze'," she explains.

Elka had a chance meeting with a past school classmate named Will in 2005, who was rumoured to have developed a drug addiction.

Elka with children
SYDNEY, - OCTOBER 28, 2015: Elka Whalan alongside her children Nevada and Edison during the QVB Swarovski Christmas tree VIP preview. (Photo Don Arnold/WireImage)

"Will looked like a different man," Elka recalls.

“I was at the top of my game, but I just didn’t have contentment”"When he was around 22 his life was threatened [in a violent robbery] and at that moment he asked himself, 'Would God be happy with the way I lived my life?'

"God spared his life, but he spent a long time in hospital. From that moment he turned his life around, and is now working in the community helping people."

Elka says Will's change "really resonated" with her.

"I felt the yearning to go back to the one who gave me life, Jesus," she explains.

Then aged 23 and still enjoying a thriving career, she began attending a Christian church and praying to God regularly again.

This church proclaimed the good news of Jesus and Elka says, "I noticed there was something really amazing, there was something that felt like home."

She initially felt uneasy seeing how happy and peaceful Christians appeared but understood how Jesus gives people lasting inner peace after she says she "asked Jesus to enter my life and I gave up all of me and trusted Him".

"It's deeper than a feeling when the touch of God comes upon you," she explains. "I want to lift up my hands and sing, because I love God."

She had achieved an Olympic silver medal, a five-year Australian 400m freestyle short-course record, and world championship gold medals, and could have competed for years more, but just a year after becoming a Christian she retired in 2006.

"I was a lady about statistics," Elka explains. "I knew that... 0.8 percent (of a nation) end up on a dais (podium). I wanted to be in that percentage. But then I came to God and all of that changed."

After that, she says, "the only statistic that mattered" was that she had God's forgiveness and eternal life through Jesus, and everyone else needed this too.

"I loved what I did and I still do," she explains, "but the difference was I had God in my life."

Ten years on, she is a successful media personality, mother of three children with husband Thomas, and her daily relationship with Jesus is still going strong.

"I am content every day of my life — never anxious or worried — [because] God has filled me with an abundance of His love," Elka says.

"No matter who disappoints me I know Jesus won't disappoint me. And when you make God your number one, He will never disappoint you.

"Although I enjoyed swimming, I can't do life without Christ. It means the world to me. I am who I am now because of Him."

Follow Elka on social media and her blog at ElkaWhalan.com.au

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