Raising the bar

Nicola McDermott competes
Nicola McDermott of Australia competes in the Women’s High Jump during the Queensland Track Classic at QSAC on March 28, 2018 in Brisbane. (Photo Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Aussie Nicola McDermott has made a name for herself in the sport of high jumping. In 2011, she sailed over 1.76 metres and has been beating her personal best every year since. In 2018, she leapt her way to a bronze medal at the Gold Coast XXI Commonwealth Games for clearing 1.91 metres.

"I got into high jump when I was in under-9s," she says. "Back then I had a little dream to represent Australia...to be one of the first women ever in Australia to jump two metres."

With a current best of 1.96m, Nicola is a whisker away from accomplishing her goal. Her prowess has won her worldwide attention and has placed her equal third on the Australian all-time rankings list and equal sixth on the 2019 World Rankings.

However, the 23-year-old athlete has faced several challenges on her journey to the top and openly shares her struggles – and the faith that grounds her.

Nicola explains, "When I first started sports such as swimming, tennis or dancing, I was just terrible. But then at my first school athletic carnival, to my surprise, I started winning all the events. I realised I had a gift and my parents enrolled me in Little Athletics, which I immediately loved."

She describes what it was like when she first tried the high jump. "I was nine, tall and loved running. High jump was a sport that challenged me physically and mentally and I enjoyed all the training and the feeling of jumping."

I was
immediately
met by this
overwhelming,
non-judging
love

Nicola says her height made her a target for bullying while she was growing up.

"I went to a new school in my last year of primary school and I was concerned about what would happen," she says. As it turned out, she worried for nothing.

Nicola's new school was a Christian one and her experience there proved life-changing.

"When I walked in I was immediately met by this overwhelming, non-judging love from the students and teachers," she recalls. "It was a love that left me with questions and envious of how they were able to show that sort of love. They all said they loved because Jesus loved them. It was simple yet it changed my entire life."

Nicola McDermott
Nicola McDermott shares her journey in a video clip for Athletics Australia.

Nicola had been raised in a religious family and attended a formal church regularly but after going to her new school, things shifted for her.

"It was the first time I came into full realisation of the Gospel [story of Jesus saving us from our sins] and the reality of God," she smiles. "I committed my life to Jesus and got involved in different youth groups and camps while at school.

"There were regular Bible studies, chapel services and opportunities at school which helped me grow in my faith. When I finished school I left my old church and joined my local church whose teachings corresponded more closely with my personal beliefs."

Nicola also joined the Evangelical Union at Sydney University where she was trained to lead Bible study groups and spoke about her journey of faith to large meetings. She also began her own ministry – Everlasting Crowns – in 2017, with a few friends who were also international athletes and wanted to serve God through sport.

"This ministry connects athletes with local sports chaplains, so wherever in the world they would be competing they could have access to Skype Bible studies," Nicola explains. "It offers encouragement, another chaplain and a local church so travelling for sport won't be a barrier to an athlete growing in his or her faith. This ministry has organised meetings at the highest international sporting competitions and has created incredible fellowship within a high-pressure environment."

Nicola, who recently became an ambassador for Youth for Christ, is not only passionate about her sport but also about reaching others with the good news of the Gospel. "I was given the opportunity to write daily devotionals, attend Christian conferences internationally and speak at national chaplaincy events," she says.

Her story of dedication, commitment and perseverance has opened doors to share her faith. "I love the platform this sport gives me to be a role model for the next generation," she says.