By Leah MarieAnn Klett, Christian Post Reporter | Friday, August 06, 2021
Three-time Olympian Lolo Jones vividly remembers what she calls the “biggest failure” of her career.
Jones, America’s favorite hurdler, was competing in the 100-meter hurdle finals in ’08 in Beijing. Just seconds away from winning the gold medal she was favored to win, Jones clipped the second to last hurdle, dropping to seventh place. As millions watched, the athlete fell to the ground in a puddle of tears.
But in that devastating moment, Jones heard God whisper three simple words: “But you’re here.”
Those three words, she told The Christian Post, were life-changing.
“At that moment, God reminded me, ‘This will try to break you, but you’re still here, you’re still standing,’” she recalled. “That completely shifted my perspective. Losing an Olympic gold medal is the worst thing that could happen to an Olympic athlete, but those words gave me an instant change in my attitude to one of gratitude. Even in the storm, even in the battles, God reminds me of His faithfulness and provision.”
Refusing to give up, Jones would go on to qualify for two more Olympic competitions, running the 100-meter hurdles in 2012, and competing on the U.S. bobsled team in 2014. In February, she won gold at the bobsled World Championships.
She’s also one of just 10 Americans in the history of the Olympics to compete in both the Summer Games and Winter Games. Today, the Louisiana resident is training for a spot on the U.S. Bobsledding team for Beijing Games in 2022.
But win or lose, the 39-year-old athlete said she’s learned — sometimes the hard way — that her identity doesn’t lie in her accomplishments, but in being a child of God.
“I have to think, ‘OK, what happens if I end my career and I’m never an Olympic medalist? Am I going to be bitter at God because of that, or am I just going to praise Him and thank Him for the opportunities and blessings I’ve had along the way?”
“That mentality,” she added, “applies to life, because what if your dreams in life don’t work out? What if you don’t get the things you’ve prayed about? You can choose gratitude or you can choose to be bitter and angry. Regardless of whether I win or lose, God is going to receive praise from my mouth, no matter if I get the desires of my heart or if I don’t.”
In her new book, Over It: How to Face Life’s Hurdles with Grit, Hustle, and Grace, Jones shares how God’s faithfulness — and choosing gratitude and perseverance in the face of overwhelming challenges — have been running themes in her life.
Born to an African American father and Caucasian mother, Jones grew up surrounded by alcoholism, dysfunction and abuse.
At a young age, the Iowa native and her siblings learned to shoplift just to eat. At night, she often slept on the basement floor of the Salvation Army (“We basically lived there,” she recalled). Jones’ father later went to prison for domestic abuse, forcing her mother to work multiple jobs to make ends meet.
“There were some really harsh moments,” Jones said. “My dad was in prison for multiple crimes.”
But Jones reflects on her childhood with candor, optimism and even humor — something she’s able to do, she said, because of her faith.
“My faith allows me to forgive,” she said. “I can reflect on my relationship with my dad and harbor anger and resentment. But then, I’d still be broken. After everything happened, not only did I forgive my dad and my mom, but there were layers of healing throughout my family. They completely changed.”
“Now, I can look back on the amazing moments I had with my dad, and I can remember him as a kind, gentle person. After he came out of prison, he was a changed man. He never put his hands on my mother again. He was a man of faith and even took me to church.”
Jones believes her father’s story is evidence that God can change anyone’s heart: “It reflects the power of a relationship with Christ,” she said. “It’s not just my forgiveness; it’s our understanding that God forgives us too.”
In many ways, the athlete said, it was her upbringing that gave her the determination and grit needed to earn an economics degree at LSU and eventually establish herself as a world-class Olympian. Today, she empowers others facing socio-economic hardships through her foundation.
In her book, Jones openly shares the setbacks she’s experienced, from spinal surgery in 2012 to the COVID-19 pandemic delaying the 2020 games, ending her chances for an Olympic medal in hurdling.
“I lost a lot of things during the pandemic,” she said. “My whole schedule shut down just like everyone else. I didn’t see another human for over a month, and I was struggling with loneliness. My mental health was suffering quite a bit, and I was struggling to keep positive.”
The “Dancing With the Stars” alum credits prayer, journaling, Scripture reading (“I love the Psalms,” she said), and books by Christian authors like Robert Shuler and Francine Rivers with helping her when she finds herself in a rut. She encouraged others struggling with their mental health to reach out to others, stressing the importance of having a “strong team around you.”
“Even the strongest Olympians have shown that they’ve needed help on mental health,” she said. “Showing that you need help isn’t a weakness. It’s actually a strength to actually say, ‘Hey, this is too much for me. I’m struggling with it.”
As long as she’s able, Jones said she’ll continue to fight for her dreams and use her platform to share her faith. She challenged other young believers to stand firm on the Gospel in an increasingly hostile culture.
“It can be exhausting because cancel culture says that even speaking up for your faith is ‘hate speech,’” she said. “How can Christianity and sharing God’s love be deemed as hate? God is the author of love. I feel for the younger generation because it is so countercultural to talk about your faith today.”
“God’s the ultimate defender,” she reminded. “Pray that He will give you the words to share at the right time. There have been so many moments where God has placed people in my life when they were desperately hurting and just needed some encouragement. If you let Him, God will give you the words.”
Whatever the future holds, Jones said she’s confident in God’s faithfulness — and hopes to use her story to encourage others to overcome obstacles with strength, resilience and joy.
“I hope that my book gives hope to someone who has lost it, someone who feels exhausted and drained, someone who feels like they’ve done everything in their power to achieve their dreams and they just keep falling flat on their face,” she said. “I want to give a boost of energy to someone out there who is hurting to just try again and to have hope, regardless of what they’re facing.”