A monthly Christian sport column by Cobus Kruger, a professional triathlete who is passionate about evangelism, leadership and community development through sport.
In the journey of bringing unity within the body of Christ, I started to set a lot of my time out to meet with, and to hear the heartbeat of fellow believers in different ministries, different areas and different situations. As I spent time last week in Stellenbosch with training and ministry, I met many wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ on and off the sports field.
I want to share the story of one of our fellow brothers in Christ, Fanie van der Merwe, a veteran professional athlete who started winning medals at the IPC World Championships in 2006 as a para-athlete in the 100m and 200m T37.
Fannie retired from professional athletics last year after the Rio Olympics and currently lives in Stellenbosch where he runs a coaching ministry called Inspired2Become. As I spent a bit of time with Fanie last week, I just felt that I should share his story with all of you.
In this month’s column I’m going to share his testimony, and then next month I’m going to write more about his ministry, and his work as a retired paralympic gold medallist.
Fanie’s athletic achievements
Let’s first take a look at some of Fanie’s greatest achievements as a professional athlete:
Like I said, he won a lot of international medals since 2006. He won his first paralympics golds in Beiiging a 2008 in both the 100m and 200m T37.
He won gold again in the 2012 London Paralympics in the 100m T37, and in 2014 he won gold in the 100m T37 at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Fanie ended his Paralympics career last year in Rio where he won bronze in the 100m t37.
Although this all looks really impressive on paper — and is really impressive — I got the idea as I spent time with Fanie that he really understood that there is more to life than gold medals … Jesus. He loves God with all his heart, so let’s be inspired with his story in his own words.
“My journey started as a pre-schooler running trials at the ‘big-school’. I was in the front for all of the race, but fell just before the finish line! This basically describes what I experienced throughout a lot of my school career in sport — big expectations that often came with big disappointments.”Growing up I loved doing sports but always felt held back by my disability, and my disability seemed so purposeless. The only thing I wanted in school was a chance, but never felt like I really received that fair opportunity. I made peace with the fact that I might not get far in sport, but I would take part because I loved it!
But God knew about that desire in my heart. Little did I know God was preparing me for the big chance He had planned for me from the beginning.
“When I was young, I would get offended when people asked me if I was disabled or why I was limping. But my disability — the very thing I thought was placed in my life as a ‘curse’ — God turned around into one of the biggest blessings in my life!
In school, all I wanted was just to make a school team. God’s plan looked so much different, He gave me a gold medal at the Paralympic Games!
If I hadn’t go through the suffering I did, if things just always went my way, there is no way I would have handled my journey in the same way.
The thing is, I knew I had no future in sport, and made peace with that, but God in His goodness decided to turn things around. I can confidently say that the career I had in sport was a gift out of God’s hands, something I didn’t deserve, and therefore I can’t boast in it!
“So in Grade 11, I made the able-bodied school team, which was a big achievement for me. That was also where Miss Wessel saw the opportunity to get me into athletics for people with disabilities. New doors started to open for me, I missed out on Athens 2004, but if anyone asked me what my dream was, I would say: to go to the Paralympic Games in Beijing in 2008!
“As things got closer I realised I could be a medal contestant. As a young believer, I remembered one thing: I didn’t want to do this alone, I embraced this journey with the Lord.
I remember thinking on the way to Beijing, on the airplane, what it would be like sitting on the airplane heading back home! All I can say, sitting on the airplane on the way back, I was in awe of what God did.
“After my semi-finals in the 100m, the Chinese athlete had a brilliant race 0.70 seconds faster than my time. My first thought was ‘I‘ve to settle for silver’, but as I got back in my room I listened to the same song I listened to that morning, saying “God will lift up your head soon and in joy”. I jammed that song going crazy in my room, believing I could win that race (and if I didn’t it would be okay, but I’m not going into that race thinking it is impossible, I’m going in with faith). We prayed before that race, just submitting under God’s will.
“I got into the call room and the Chinese athlete wasn’t there, he didn’t race, and only afterwards did I hear that the head classifier had a look at the athlete and found that he wasn’t in the right class. I would not hope that for anyone, but what happened there was actually impossible. To have a permanent classification changed just before the final is unheard of. My friend said God opened a door for me to receive that gold medal. And not just one, God gave me two gold medals at my first Paralympics!
“I remember a lot of people asking me what is my favourite place I’ve been to, but I always connect it to my best experience, especially experiencing God. The most precious thing about my athletics journey has been discovering God’s father heart and getting to know Him through all the highs and the lows — Him showing me He is always with me, and experiencing His constant, unfailing love.
“A lot of the times we take our eyes off Jesus and stare at the world, or get intimidated by it. God will use the hard times to draw you closer to Him and give you back the joy of living for Him alone, if we will only let Him and I am still challenged with this (living for an audience of one that is what we were created for).
My athletics is also an opportunity to connect with people I otherwise would have never had the chance to do so, to shine in the darkness, and to trust and believe God for the impossible.”
Scripture references Romans 8:28; 1 John 4:16 AMP; 2 Corinthians 5:7; 1 Corinthians 10:31; Philippians 2:14-16a.
So fellow believers, let’s go and read and ponder and apply the scriptures that Fanie gave us at the end of his testimony. Be inspired and let’s live for Jesus day by day, and glorify God in whatever we do.
There are more stories from Fanie, but I’m going to write some of them in my next column as I look into his coaching and ministry.
Be inspired, and remember Jesus is the way, truth and life … Jesus loves you!
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