Thursday & Friday of this trip represented the 20-hour athletic competition, known as the SPECIAL. As Rachel explained earlier, it's a grueling competition with minimal sleep, lots of burpees, and lots of bruises. I think all the athletes now have some level of PTSD when it comes to pushups and bear crawls!!
As part of the staff not competing, we had been prepping the athletes all week with warnings to stay hydrated (to help avoid full-body cramping), rest up, and to prepare their hearts & minds for the challenge ahead. Had we been in a different setting in the States, perhaps these coaches might have told the athletes to mentailly prepare themselves to rise to this challenge, to use all their mental energy to complete the task ahead. Instead the AIA staff led workshops to teach 5 Principles pointing towards leaning on God, not our own strength to persist when the body fails. The following Principle titles will give you a hint into the types of conversations we had, and the way our athletic and professional (sports medicine) attitudes can be glorifying to God:
- AUDIENCE OF ONE. God Alone is Worthy of Your Worship
- INSIDE GAME. God's Love Moves You From Fear to Freedom
- HOLY SWEAT, WHOLLY SURRENDER. God Provides Resources for Soul Training to Help You Grow
- HURTIN' FOR CERTAIN. God Redeems Suffering for Our Good & His Glory
- VICTORY BEYOND COMPETITION. God Requires Total Investment Today for Eternal Return Tomorrow
Since I was providing athletic training coverage in the SPECIAL, I was allowed an inside view into the overall organization, exercises choice, and flow of the 20-hour event. The first time I looked at the schedule of events, believe me, both my eyebrows shot up! This was no Tough Mudder or fun run. This event was truly designed to have the athletes perform a sequence of athletic events in which their bodies would fail. They could not complete it in their own strength! They would need their teammates help. And when their teammates could no longer lift them up, the athletes turned to God for the strength to continue.
As an athletic trainer, I have rarely felt inadiquate in my skills and ability to provide for hurting athletes. However, after the first few hours of the SPECIAL, I realized that this would be a struggle & experience between each athlete and God. I could refill water bottles, run around stretching legs, evaluating ankles, and massaging cramps (and I stayed busy doing all those things!), but when it came down to it, this was about individual surrender to God and glorifying him. So I found myself praying for each athlete from the sidelines. Most of these athletes I had met just five days previously; some I had gotten to know through their testimonies & stories; some were local South Africans I had just met. Unlike my teams in the States, I didn't know their life story, their medical history, or their physical limitations. I could only pray that God would meet their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs in a big way.
In the hours that followed the completion of SPECIAL, many of the athletes shared the mental battles they were fighting over the course of the 20 hours. I had the priviledge of witnessing many of these battles. Christ shown through the pain, the bruises, the tears, and the cramps, and revealed His strength by sustaining the athletes. It was a beautiful thing to see the surrender as each athlete met his/her breaking point! There were so many moments where the AIA staff and athletic trainers were in tears as we watched these athletes transformed through Christ as they let go of themselves. Rachel mentioned the moment where she was doing wall sits for 15 minutes. What she didn't mention is that by minute 10, everyone in the gym had noticed that she and Theo were still going (while all other athletes had sat down). And when the song Child of God came on, Rachel sat on the wall with outstretched arms, SINGING!!
It was a tumuluous 20 hours for all of us. The staff was just as sleep deprived as the athletes. (I slept for 14 hours the following night!) But as we met together at the conclusion of the SPECIAL, we were vulnerable with our experiences, vulnerable about how God has spoken in our lives, and joyful that we were able to experience this in beautiful South Africa!
Thank you to all who have supported us this far and made this trip a reality. We get to be a part of God's mission, love like Jesus, and help break down racial & social barriers that still exist down here in SA.