Going the distance

1500m champion Jennifer Simpson shares what keeps her going

Jennifer Simpson celebrates
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 16, 2016: Jennifer Simpson celebrates with the American flag after winning the bronze medal in the Women’s 1500m Final at the Rio Olympic Games. (Photo Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

As a World Champion and Olympian, Jennifer Simpson is considered to be one of the best athletes in the world. Switching from steeplechase to long distance running in 2009 after competing in the Beijing Olympics, Jenny won gold in the 1500m at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu.

"It is something that you dream about," she said in a post race interview. "It's not like you just go and win a race. Everything has to come together at the same time. You have to make it through the first round and a preliminary."

So far in her career Jenny has awed many with her terrific running times and achievements. In the last five years alone she has won the 2011 World Championships (1500m time 4:05:40), been the NCAA Champion four times, made six NCAA records, competed in the 2008 Olympics and became the American record holder in the steeplechase with a time of 9:12:50.

She won a bronze medal for the 1500m at the 2016 Olympics. The 1500m World record still eludes her, however, and in her failure to break it she has been confronted with immense disappointment.

She says her anger and frustration may seem "dramatic," but she explains it wasn't "just a record that I hoped to get. For me, this is every day of my life, and this is what I'm working toward."

Jenny has said it is her faith in Jesus Christ that helps her, whether she is losing races or winning them.

"My faith is the strength that I lean on," she is reported as saying. "And I'm a Christian and I go to church with my husband and family.

"I think that really having ownership of your own faith and understanding how that can bring you peace is something that has really helped me get through a lot of the difficult seasons where I wasn't doing my best.

"It also helped me get through some of the best seasons where there was a lot of pressure. And so when I know that there is a joy in what I do that is greater than myself it makes me feel like, I just have to be a good steward of my ability and God will take care of the rest."

Still, she struggled. Jenny wondered why God had placed the goal of breaking the 1500m record in her heart only for her to fail. "When you have such a strong conviction about something and then it doesn't really happen, even in the intensity of that moment, I just think, 'Why have You laid this on my heart if it's not happening?'"

But the Lord spoke to her and comforted her. "There are those moments where God speaks directly to you and it stops you directly in your tracks with the clarity with which God just spoke to you," she says. "He said, 'I'm very, very much here, and I'm very much aware of the situation.'"

She thought of 2 Corinthians 10 verse 5 in the Bible, which says, "We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."

"I'm consciously going to take those thoughts captive and choose something different," she remembers deciding. "I think that's what it means to take on the character of Christ."

Jenny grew up in a Christian home and both her parents are Christians but she says she had to make the decision to follow Jesus for herself.

"I can recall being in Middle school with a group of kids one day and getting asked what would we do if our pastor, parents and friends all tried to convince us that Christ wasn't real and that the Bible was just made up. Would we still believe?

"At that point, I started to seriously and critically think about my faith and began to take ownership of it. I discovered that I did believe Christ was the Son of God and that I was to live my life for Him. This revelation paved the way for me to go through High school making decisions based on honoring Christ and living a life that reflected His love."

Jennifer Simpson
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 17, 2016: Bronze medalist Jennifer Simpson during the medal ceremony for the Women’s 1500m at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. (Photo Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Part of honoring Christ for Jenny was to use the gift of running He had given her.

"Through the victories and athletic success, God has opened the floodgates for me to share Him with others," she said in an interview for Sharing the Victory. "I truly believe that, if I am a good steward of what He gives, He is going to, as I like to say, 'put good where it can do the most good'.

"I can only pray that, as long as God places blessings like these in my hands, I will continue to complete that greater good for His Kingdom."

Jenny is determined to follow the will of God for her life.

"Certainly, I would love to have the chance to compete in the Olympics again, but having a sense of who I am in Christ keeps me from allowing those goals to restrict what He has in store for me in the future.

"God has blessed me with an incredible gift, but I understand that running is not the only thing He's given me," Jenny concludes.

"I really believe that what's been laid on my heart and this hard work that I've been putting in will absolutely be fulfilled in some way," she says. "I'll know when that day has come."

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