Injured Athlete

There’s No Plan B When Standing in Faith – by Pastor Monica Gardner

The road to a gold medal isn’t as glamorous as one may think. There are so many challenges, obstacles, and huge hurdles to overcome. I know this all too well being the parent of a two-time Olympian, who won a gold medal in Rio 2016 and a silver medal in Tokyo 2020. The long, hard road to the podium took patience, endurance, and faith. English started running at the age of 7 and her talent was apparent then, but uncultivated.

English’s track story started with the Willingboro Track Club, where she trained and competed every spring and summer until high school, winning many medals throughout her early track career. Running at Eastern High School in NJ, she won multiple New Jersey Meet of Champions Titles and was being courted by numerous Division 1 colleges.

While competing in a school Powderpuff game of football in the fall of 2008, English was running with the ball and did a juke move to avoid the defense. She heard a pop and immediately went down. It seemed as if the entire stadium went silent, their breath waiting for English to get up and shake it off. From the stands we watched anxiously as she got to her feet and started hopping around; immediately my husband, a former track athlete and now coach, knew something was wrong. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion while we anxiously focused on our daughter.

I watched them carry English off the field, and later an MRI confirmed that she blew out her knee, meaning she tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), medial collateral ligament (MCL), and meniscus. She would require surgery and months of rehab if she ever wanted to run again. Her ACL was so damaged she would have to receive one from a cadaver.

It was hard for me to believe anything like this could happen because I felt like God wouldn’t have brought her so close to her dream and then allow it all to slip away. I mean, how could He?

There is no way I could ever adequately explain the moment when she heard the diagnosis and future prognosis. English cried hysterically and was inconsolable. The heartbreak, the momentary loss of hope, and fear were all visible on her tear-streaked face. All from playing a fun game of football with her schoolmates on an ordinary day.

Over the past 28 years, my husband and I have been Pastors of Life Giving Word Family Worship Center so faith has always been a major part of our lives. We worked hard to pass this faith along to our four now-grown children. We raised them to believe not only in God’s existence, but also in his miraculous power, and that there is nothing too hard for Him to do in their lives.

While processing her diagnosis, we thought back to when English received a word from the Lord during a revival service years earlier that she would be an Olympian. We held on to that prophecy as we encouraged her, while still facing our own fears about our English’s condition.

Our family rallied behind English to lift, encourage, and remind her that “he that has begun a good work in her would perfect it!” We believed the promise in Romans 8:28 that all things work together for those who love God and are called according to His purpose. As English loved God and track was part of her purpose and destiny, we knew God was going to make a way for her to get back to doing what she loved.

While enduring surgery, recovery, and a six-month painful rehabilitation, we were strengthened and encouraged by English’s focus and determination. She went to school on crutches and with braces. Her faith was unwavering and combining that with her unmatched work ethic, we would often observe her doing more than was required for her daily rehab. Faith is vital, but without work it is dead, useless, and non-productive.

This was not an easy road. There were countless times when our faith was challenged, especially when many of the colleges that had previously shown interest suddenly disappeared or reduced their scholarship offers since English wasn’t able to compete in her senior. Our daughter was considered damaged, and many believed she would never run at the same elite level again.

I really struggled with the way the colleges treated my daughter. Initially, they courted her; then after her injury, they disappeared or ignored her. I couldn’t understand why after all she had accomplished, they still weren’t willing to take a chance on her. It was really disheartening for all of us.

Thankfully, when you trust God, there is no other plan outside of what He promised. After working so hard, English was ahead of the projected rehabilitation schedule, trusting in God and waiting for His promise to manifest in her life. God soon fulfilled His promise and English received a full scholarship to the University of Oregon.

After leaving for college, it was hard for English to be so far away from home. She really grew as an adult as she was out there by herself. It was just her and God, and her faith elevated to another level. She visited different church denominations and finally found a home and spiritual family on her own.

During that time, English realized depending on God is even more important than depending on her natural ability. God’s grace and favor put her in a place where others could not be.

From there, her career soared as she went on to become a five-time NCAA Champion and six-time Pacific-12 Conference (PAC-12) Champion. English received All-American recognition on eight different occasions. In her junior year at Oregon, she signed with Nike as one of their elite sprinters.

In 2016, she miraculously made the US Olympic Team and competed in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. When English didn’t place in 100 meters, she was absolutely devastated. It was difficult to console her, especially when we were crying right along with her. I asked the Lord to give me the words to say to my child, as I was at a loss for words. The next day God gave me words of encouragement to help prepare English to run the 400-meter relay, also known as the 4×100 meter.

I truly believe losing that 100-meter race was a shifting point in English’s life. We celebrated the gold medal she won on the relay, however, our celebration was short-lived, because she somehow suffered another injury to the same leg; this time her meniscus tore and rolled up inside of her knee.

This injury required yet another surgery and rehabilitation period. This time things were different – English was no longer a high school athlete. She was an Olympian champion and endorsed athlete with one of the top brands in the world. The level of pressure to return was much greater than from her previous injury.  Contracts, professional career status, and her livelihood were at stake. Our faith needed to be on another level this time around.

I found myself questioning the situation. Why does everything have to be a struggle? Can’t something just go smoothly for me? You see, I had just fought Stage 3 breast cancer in 2007, the year before English’s initial injury. It seemed as if I was constantly in a spiritual fight. God soon revealed it’s through life’s difficulties that we grow in our faith, where others can see His glory in our lives.

God often allows certain things to happen to teach us who He truly is in our lives. If we’ve never been ill, how can we ever know the Master physician? If our resources were always abundant, can we truly understand that He is our source? This was the time that God was making himself known even more, not only to English, but to our entire family.

There was a point where things were no longer looking like what God promised. It was one fight after another, and it began to take a toll on my daughter. English began to question her ability to go through rehabilitation all over again. The injury wasn’t as bad as her initial one, yet it was hard for her to come back from. She battled with depression as the enemy was attempting to make her wallow and ultimately drown in defeat. She was simply exhausted from her physical and spiritual battles.

My husband and I are a team – in our home, at church, and on the track. He’s English’s coach and was always on the sidelines: always training and instructing. I support our daughter mentally spiritually and emotionally as a spiritual coach, psychologist, and best friend. I’m the one dealing with the tears and tantrums while catching her as she is about to fall.

No one is perfect, including our children. They can take us through the fire with their decisions and choices, and it’s important that we support them during their difficult and challenging situations, even as adults.

My children have taught me what true ministry truly is. Unconditional love, selfless sacrifice, and complete trust in God. Grace, forgiveness, long-suffering, tolerance, patience – as we develop them, we become more like Christ. English was in the fight of her life, and we had to help her regain her position – both naturally and spiritually. She moved home to New Jersey to have the support of family; attending church on Sundays, so she could reboot. The word of God revived her faith and the love and support of her family and friends gave her the strength to fight again.

Faith is everything to me. Even as there are so many things to distract us, we must always stay focused on our faith, but God is able, and He is the answer to every difficult situation or trial, we may face in life.

English is training, with dad as her full-time coach. After overcoming COVID-19 and winning a silver medal in Toyko 2020, she is on the road to gold again, with our sights set on Paris 2024. If it’s God’s will, we will be there!

Encouragement for Moms:

There’s a saying “the hand that rocks, the cradle, rules the world”, and that is because of the power we all have as mothers. We are the closest example and expression of God to our children. It is through our love and example that they learn about unconditional love, forgiveness, and faith. After God, no one loves like we do. Sometimes we feel like efforts go unnoticed and our teachings go unheard, but they are known! Keep speaking life, first to yourself, then to others. We are life givers and everything that is placed in our care, should grow and thrive.

Prayer for Moms:

Father, I pray for every mother to walk in grace and wisdom and as they share their faith with their families let it take root and blossom into a relationship of total trust in your plan and purpose for their lives and the lives of their families. 

In Jesus Name, Amen

~Pastor Monica

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Want to hear more of Pastor Monica’s story? Watch her Moms Night In Conversation on YouTube

Or watch on Facebook here.

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