With Every Footstep

With Every Footstep

From Chicken Soup for the Kid's Soul

With Every Footstep

You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence. . . .

Ps. 16:11

I was not only a little surprised, but worried to find myself in the Vault Finals at the 1996 Olympic Games when Kerri Strug was forced to pull out as a result of an ankle injury. I had done well during the team competition, but had just missed qualifying for the Vault Finals competition. When my coach, Steve, and I were notified that I’d become eligible to compete in this event, I wasn’t feeling prepared to be Kerri’s replacement.

My first reaction was, How can I? Due to an extremely sore wrist, I had not been able to work a second vault. Vault Finals require that the gymnast compete on two vaults from two different vault families. This was a moment when all of my gymnastics experience had to be there to support me. Steve encouraged me to give it a try.

Once I recovered from the initial shock, I knew that I didn’t want to give up the opportunity to compete in another event of the 1996 Olympics. I fully intended to give it my best shot from that moment forward. With a positive attitude, and with support from Steve and my parents, I gave it everything I had during my workouts, and they went great. I didn’t miss a single vault—even while warming up for the actual competition. I focused on how great an opportunity it was to be given the chance to compete.

However, my positive attitude and joy quickly turned to tears of embarrassment and discouragement. When the time came to compete, I sprinted hard down the runway, but as I approached the springboard, I knew that my steps were off. I was not coming onto the vault horse at the right place! In an instant, it was all over. I had missed placing one of my hands down on the horse, which resulted in my performing an outrageous flip in the air and landing on my seat right in front of literally hundreds of thousands of people! I felt the hot flush of embarrassment swimming from my stomach straight up to my bright red face.

As soon as the event was over, I headed up to the USA gymnastics suite, where I knew my parents would be waiting for me. My tears were flowing pretty freely, so my parents took me aside so that we could have a little privacy. I try always to place my trust in God to direct my path. I never pray to win, but I always ask God to help me do my best. I had been so full of joy and confidence going into the competition. What had happened?

Mom asked me if I remembered the poem Footprints that hung on the wall of my room. She reminded me that God had always been walking with me. Never had he abandoned me. Maybe it was time for me to allow God to carry me. Rather than be worried about once again failing, I could remember that I didn’t have to do this all by myself. All I needed to remember was that God is always by my side. Instead of dreading Beam Finals the next day, I needed to be grateful for the opportunity to express the talent that God had given me, and not to be concerned about winning or losing.

The next evening, I was calm and at peace while I waited for my turn to compete. When I mounted the beam, I heard a man yell at someone in the crowd, “Turn your [camera] flash off!” I consciously thought, How sweet of him to be concerned about my welfare. A camera flash can cause an accident that could potentially end a career, or worse. It struck me that I had never before heard what was going on around me when I was competing. I was usually so tremendously focused, I had blocked out everything else. But that night’s competition was different from any other. I felt an emotional connection with the audience whose love of gymnastics, and the athletes who represented the sport, seemed to completely surround me. At that moment, I was able to let in all the joy of the evening, of being in the Olympic Games, and of the sport of gymnastics.

I took a few calming breaths and thanked God for being with me, and for the talent that he has given me. And then, I went for it!

I aced my routine! I felt so great when my feet hit the mat. I honestly had no idea as to whether or not I would win a medal. But at that moment, medals truly did not matter. I had accomplished something far greater than a world record in gymnastics. I had felt the comfort and strength of God’s presence with every footstep of the routine.

I took home an Olympic Gold Medal to remind me of that night. But the night was golden in more ways than one. I will always treasure in my heart what it is like to experience God’s presence.

Shannon Miller

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