Many elite athletes put in significant time, money and hard work to become experts in their sports with one goal in mind: to make it to the Olympic Games. But running in the Olympics wasn't Estonian middle distance runner Tiidrek Nurme's goal.
Training and competing came easy for him, Tiidrek says. Being an Olympian is not the most important or even the most difficult pursuit of his life.
Tiidrek, who ran the 1,500-meter race in the 2008 Beijing Games and the marathon in Rio last year, says his biggest challenge lies in his purpose for running and his attitude as he trains and competes.
"The real battle," he says, "is not running. The battle in my life mostly is trying to do it for Jesus."
Because God has given him the ability and talent to run, Tiidrek's goal is to show God's grace, goodness and glory through his running. The hard part, he says, is continually choosing to give God the glory instead of taking it for himself.
"If I want to glorify God, at the same time I want to do it for myself, to get glory for myself," Tiidrek says. "I want a new national record or personal record because I want to be more in the picture. I want to go to the Olympics so people talk about me more. So it's a very sinful way of thinking, which I think affects every person."
Tiidrek knows plenty about sin as he admits he was a "bad boy" who drank too much and got involved with gangs of thieves as a teenager. At 15 he ended up in youth prison for theft, where he served eight months of a 14-month sentence.
That time was very hard for Tiidrek. "There was no one to trust and I saw many awful things," he remembers. The experience made him look beyond himself and consider the big questions of life like, "What is my purpose?" and "Is there a God?"
Tiidrek's Christian aunt had invited him to church many times, which he found "kind of boring". But early in 2003 he really started considering what the pastor was preaching and seeking for answers. It took him until April to come to the point of making a decision to give his life to Jesus.
just a God
of books”"Over time, I felt God giving me answers to all my questions. He was taking care of me and nurturing me slowly," Tiidrek told Challenge. "I found out he is a living God, not just a God of books. He is always willing to communicate with people. I realised Jesus loved me despite my actions.
"When I became a Christian I didn't know myself very well but through Jesus I have found balance and purpose. After I became a Christian I found my true self and the gift for sport God gave me from birth.
"Jesus gave me freedom not to sin and took away the desire to do those things.
"My life was totally transformed. All my values about family, friends, education and society were changed. I started to care about people more and I wanted to live my life well," Tiidrek shares.
Because Estonia is a very non-religious country, Tiidrek has found people will respect and listen to a Christian who shows the sincerity of their faith by their actions, rather than their words.
"God has put me in situations where I share His grace, His presence, through action," Tiidrek says. "That's something very unique. Very simple things can speak about Jesus."
One occasion on which he was able to demonstrate the grace of God was a 2015 marathon in Valencia, Spain. He paced another runner, Lily Luik, one of the famous Estonian triplets, and helped her to finish the race, with Lily setting a personal record and qualifying for the Rio Olympics.
Later that night, she told Tiidrek that "it was like God sent you at the 30 km point". He responded that it must have been God because there was no other way he could have known she was in trouble.
Another challenge for Tiidrek as he trains is staying in Christian community and regular communication with God. Sometimes his busy schedule gets in the way of time with God.
When he isn't reading the Bible regularly or "sharing life with Jesus," Tiidrek notices something is missing.
"It takes a few days, but I find myself empty. I find myself in a struggle, sad and worrying," he says. "I constantly need the grace of God. I must pray often.
"I am so grateful to the Lord that He cares for me and loves me regardless of my education, position or results," Tiidrek concludes. "One day when I am old and can't run so fast, God will still be the same as He is for me today."•