By Kevin Jones
An Olympic runner whose sportsmanship drew headlines this week says that her faith in God helps her to find joy in her sport.
Abbey D’Agostino, who was raised in a Catholic family, spoke to Julia Hanlon’s “Running On Om” podcast, published November 18, 2015. She discussed her fears and anxieties about running, her injuries, and her prayer life.
“I ended up just accepting Jesus and recognizing what that meant in my life,” she told Hanlon. “I felt the peace that comes with acknowledging that I’m not going to run this race with my own strength. And I think that acknowledging those fears before God is what allowed me to feel that peace and I was drawn to it and I wanted to know a God who would work that way in my life.”
“That’s when I started to rekindle more the sheer joy of the sport,” said D’Agostino, who is now 24.
During the Women’s 5,000-meter run on Tuesday, D’Agostino and New Zealand runner Nikki Hamblin collided, both tripping and tumbling to the ground.
After picking herself up, D’Agostino did not immediately continue to run, but instead turned back to help Hamblin. Then, in tremendous pain, D’Agostino was unable to go on, and Hamblin remained with her for a few moments, offering to help her up.
The two finished the race, but D’Agostino was visibly limping for the last five laps. At the finish line she shared a hug with Hamblin, then left the track in a wheelchair.
Although the fall meant that both runners failed to advance to the final race, Olympic judges ruled that they would be allowed to compete in the finals, due to their show of sportsmanship.
However, it was later announced that D’Agostino would be unable to compete, due to a torn ACL.
D’Agostino issued a statement on the race Wednesday: “Although my actions were instinctual at that moment, the only way I can and have rationalized it is that God prepared my heart to respond that way. This whole time here he’s made clear to me that my experience in Rio was going to be about more than my race performance – and as soon as Nikki got up I knew that was it.”
She had previously recounted how her reliance on God helped calm her anxiety before a big race.
“Whatever the outcome of the race is, I’m going to accept it,” she would say to herself. “I was so thankful and just drawn to what I felt like was a real manifestation of God’s work in my life.”
She told Hanlon that previous injuries forced her “to depend on God in a way that I’ve never been open to before.”
“In theory I’ve known that trusting God and giving my whole self to him is the only way in which you can feel that peace and joy and satisfaction that he offers. But it’s another thing to experience that and to be caught up in a situation where what you believe is exposed.”
“The depths of injuries, for me, exposed what’s in my heart,” she said.
After her injuries, the feelings of loneliness and loss of self-assurance have made her examine whether she really relies on God and really aims to give God control and glorify him through sport.
The runner also spoke of her spiritual life. She uses her prayer time to reflect on “what God has done in my life.” She will listen to worship music, read Scripture, and write in her journal.
“It brings me to a place of humility, where I’m acknowledging my place before God,” D’Agostino told Hanlon.
When she runs, she thinks that reliance on God and the presence of the Holy Spirit will “fuel me either consciously or subconsciously.”
D’Agostino also spoke of her fears about speaking about her faith in a public way.
“I don’t want to feel that I’m proselytizing and shoving it in people’s faces. But at the same time it’s authentic, when I do speak of it,” she said. “That’s been a real journey for me in the past year. How do I find my own voice within the social media realm and really just own it?”
“I think people feel like I’m trying to sell it,” she added. “That’s my fear. I wouldn’t want to be sold Christianity. That’s not what it’s about. God’s truth can stand on its own. It doesn’t need to be sold, it’s true in my mind.”
“But it’s hard to present your beliefs in a way that is inspiring and encouraging and gentle, and that’s how I would want to receive it. That’s how I did receive it.”
In a December 2013 interview with GaryCohenRunning.com, D’Agostino answered a hypothetical question about who she’d meet if she had a time machine.
“I would love to meet Mother Theresa. That would be it,” she said. “That would be special to talk to her.”