Rio Olympian and humanitarian Eloise Wellings is undeterred by past injuries
As Eloise Wellings prepares to enter her second Olympics, the distance runner feels confident after being injury free for two years.
"Doing (five) half marathons (in 2015) has really made my endurance a lot stronger. ... [I feel] sort of 'road ready'," she said before securing Rio selection with 10,000m gold at the Australian Championships held in Melbourne last December.
"I think I could run faster than I ever have, despite my age, and my best years could be ahead of me," the 33-year-old shared.
Eloise knows the frustration of injury all too well after a devastating stress fracture before the Sydney Olympics reoccurred before the 2004 and 2008 Olympics.
Despite these setbacks her determination paid off when she made it to London in 2012 and was a finalist in the 10,000m.
Eloise now hopes to be an even stronger contender in Rio's 5000m race, having qualified with her fastest time in nine years and taking tenth place at the Beijing World Championships last August.
Besides her improved speed she is also motivated by the opportunity to tell the world of the poverty and hunger in Uganda, where her foundation Love Mercy has helped thousands.
The genesis of Eloise's philanthropy came with the third stress fracture of her career before the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
She met Ugandan dual-Olympian Julius Achon during rehabilitation in Oregon, and his story gave her a fresh perspective on her injuries.
"If I told you my story and where I came from," Julius told her, "your foot problem would become very small."
Joseph Kony's rebel army forced Julius to become a child soldier at age 12 and he explains in a chilling online video, "If you don't go, you have to be killed. If you go, you survive."
Julius was among six who eventually escaped during a government aerial bombing attack, unlike nine friends who were killed during the fight.
He then trained himself to run and ultimately captained Uganda's Olympic team in Atlanta ('96) and Sydney (2000).
"I was completely moved by what he'd overcome to be an Olympian," Eloise explained to Good Weekend magazine in 2010. "It humbled me that he was supporting 11 orphans from his village. I have never met anyone with a softer heart."
Eloise attended Julius' wedding at his home village in 2009, a visit that lead to both an enduring friendship and their jointly-directed Love Mercy Foundation.
The foundation raised $1 million to fund a medical clinic and hospital ward but their most celebrated project is 'Cents for Seeds', which loans $30 to Ugandan women to plant 30kg of seeds.
The excess harvest then provides food and educational needs for their family, plus a loan for another farmer. So far the project has helped six villages and over 1300 women.
Eloise's injuries not only produced a strong friendship and a worthy cause that has helped thousands, but also brought her to another significant life decision.
It started in 1999 when, at age 16, her battle with anorexia and osteoporosis led to her first devastating injury two weeks after qualifying for the Sydney Olympics.
Depressed and having shut out all her friends, she recalls crying in the school yard when a girl named Lisa sat beside her.
"She said, 'I've been praying for you and I've got some people at my church praying for you. I just want you to know that God knows what you're going through and He loves you'," she recalls.
"That was encouraging for me ... I knew about God but I did not know God (personally). I had this warped sense that God was this big being up in the sky who was punishing me for something I had done wrong."
At Lisa's church, Eloise remembers, "I heard about Jesus – that He wanted a relationship with me and He cared about the intricate details of my life."
At that point, Eloise says, "I asked Jesus to come into my life", meaning that she asked for Jesus to forgive her sins and she gave control of her life to Him.
Further Olympic heartache was to follow when injuries cut her from the Athens and Beijing Olympic shadow squads but Eloise says God's provision saw her through.
"[When] I ran at the London Olympics, it wasn't about achieving a childhood dream any more, it was about running for the people I'd met in Uganda. That was humbling and very special," she told the Courier Mail in 2015.
By "reading the truths in the Bible about God having a good plan for your life, no matter what you're going through... [I can] stay strong. [I keep] asking God for that strength [to go on], instead of trying to find it in my own strength," Eloise shared with the Wesley Impact TV show in July 2014.
Besides her humanitarian work, Eloise is mum to three-year-old daughter India, a motivational speaker at schools and corporate events, and a training mentor for young athletes.
Reflecting on her career, Eloise says, "Because I've been able to come back from so many injuries, I know that the Lord (Jesus Christ) has been with me right the way through."?
More on Eloise's work at www.lovemercyfoundation.org