Whitefield Academy Blog
Failure: When God Closes Olympic-Sized Doors
A note from John and Rachel Hutson, Whitefield’s crew coaches: Emily is a friend and fellow Wheaton College crew alumna. Since graduation, Emily has been competing at the highest levels of the sport with a dream to row at the Olympic games. Among many other accomplishments, Emily was in the boat at the 2019 World Rowing Championships that qualified the United States for the 2020 Olympics in the quadruple sculls and was one of ten women invited to the U.S. selection camp for that event for the upcoming Olympics. Emily’s advice and support have been essential to our effort to bring crew to Whitefield. We so appreciate this message from her.
Failure. That is the word that more often than not I consider when I reflect on my rowing career. Friends and family all try to (rightly) console me and point out all of the things I did accomplish but it does not change the reality that I did not in fact achieve my Olympic goal. I failed.
That, however, does not mean all was lost. I hate the cliche “it is not about the destination but the journey” because it short-changes those who strive for anything. However, the journey does in fact teach, and deviations from the course can lead to a life of richness and reward. I have experienced this often and would like to share a bit of my story.
I started rowing while at Wheaton College. I loved the camaraderie and responsibility of the team. We were our own coaches and managers. During this time I also discovered I had a propensity for the sport due to my height and a base of fitness gained from years of cross country, basketball, and track. I realized I might be able to take rowing past the collegiate level. I also realized I needed to gain more experience and speed to do so. Therefore after graduation, off to Boston, one of the “headquarters” of rowing, I went.
To put it bluntly, Boston was hard. I was living down to the pennies from each paycheck. As an example, once a week I found myself walking around the grocery store parking lot looking for loose change on the ground so I could buy an apple (bananas were 19 cents, apples were 69 cents so it was a splurge to get an apple). The thing is, in the difficult circumstances, God taught me how to depend on Him. One day while rowing I hit something in the water and broke the skeg off the boat I was borrowing. This was a $100 piece of equipment that I had no way of covering. That very day I got a babysitting gig that paid exactly $100. I learned that trusting in God (while also putting in effort so He could work) led to a sort of financial freedom. I was still diligent about my budget and never spent on luxuries, but when I stopped minding every penny and let God take over, He always provided. The “oil jar” never ran out.
Another time my bike was stolen. I did not have a car at the time so my way of getting to and from the boathouse and my various jobs was lost. After a few months I was able to scrape enough together to get a second-hand bike. The bike was much too small for me and took so much more energy to get anywhere. Would you know, though, that was the summer I “happened” to really start to gain speed? It couldn’t have been from having an extra few workouts added into my day every time I rode my tiny bike, could it?
I eventually gained enough speed to be invited to the United States Women’s Rowing Training Center in Princeton, NJ. The first few years of my time there had equal challenges and every time God provided: I was able to secure a part-time job that I could work remotely around the practice schedule, and I moved in with an incredibly generous host family. These years had ups and downs of making teams and not making teams but the biggest hit was being cut from the 2016 Olympic team. I had been through so much, undergone so many trials, dealt with injuries on top of the pain that already comes with training, and trusted in God that He had me training for a reason. Yet the final achievement, the echelon of the sport I had invested so much in, was not attained. To say I was mad at God would be putting it mildly. I was so confused; why would He have me go through all of that, seemingly reassuring me every time He provided for a need, and not follow through?
I was crushed and depressed. Not knowing what else to do, I moved to Hanover, NH to get some snow for a change. During my time there, I started to train again. It was slow, but I found myself falling in love with the sport and the people in it, the things that drew me in the first place. It was while there I met some of my closest friends and acquired mentors in rowing. I learned so much about myself and saw the people of the community living life in a fresh way. I discovered a part of the country that reached down and touched my soul with its colors and culture. After much prayer and questioning, I also grew back into relationship with God and realized shortcomings I had in my faith. If I had made the team in 2016, I never would have moved to the Upper Valley and would have missed out on an experience that formed who I am today.
In the fall of 2018, after two years of training on my own, I found myself back at the training center in Princeton. Not to be outdone, this new attempt at the Olympics had its own set of thrills and spills. In September of 2019, I tore a hamstring. Due to some other injuries I was tolerating, it took until February 2020 to determine that it was in fact partially torn. This injury takes a long time to heal, however, so with the Olympics only five months away, I decided to keep training and deal with the pain, even though I was throwing up or in tears at the end of every workout. I was so close to the goal. In March of 2020, however, the goal moved. The Olympics got postponed to 2021, and I knew I had to address my hamstring. Thus started a series of injections and no training. For six weeks I was not even allowed to walk as far as the mailbox.
Ultimately I did not make the Olympic team. Six months of no training in the summer of 2020, combined with a field of women that capitalized on the extra time to be a fierce group of competitors, meant I was not at the speed I needed to be. This was my last shot at the Olympics and I am still processing the severe disappointment. The thing is, this time I am not mad at God. Do I question things? Certainly, but that is simply part of prayer discussion, not a one-sided rant. I feel a peace and know God has a plan, even if I never know the reason He called me to row at this level and in His omnipotence did not allow me to reach the goal. The anger of 2016 taught me to trust in 2021.
I could get mad about coronavirus and its impact on my Olympic strivings. I think my chances for the 2020 team were very high. Life has taught me to look otherwise, though. As a result of having to stop training in March of last year, I had a large amount of time freed up. This allowed me the chance to get on an online dating app, as I had the energy to perhaps pursue a romantic relationship for the first time ever. Long story short, I married the man of my dreams in December 2020. If I had not injured my hamstring and if the Olympics had happened when they should have, I never would have met Jim. Yet again, God took disappointment and worked in a way beyond expectations.
The thing is, life without challenges is boring and implies you are not pushing to be the best God made you to be. Just because you are a follower of Christ does not mean you will get everything you pray about and work toward. It does mean that God will use the journey to form you into the person He knows you can be. Every missed dream, monumental setback, or minor disappointment is an opportunity to grab hold of your faith and see what other opportunities await. Life is not over if you fail. It is perfectly fine to mourn the loss of a dream, but do not let failure win. Failure wins only if you let it.
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