Athlete, Champion, Conqueror


Third seed Serena Williams, USA returns a shot...
Third seed Serena Williams, USA returns a shot during her 7-6 (7-3), 6-3 victory over Natalie Dechy, at the Family Circle Cup Tennis Tournament on Daniel Island in Charleston, South Carolina. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The US Open, September, 1998 had my complete attention as a fan of the legendary Pete Sampras. Unfortunately, due to injury, Pete lost the final. The following year he would arouse the support of his fan base as he rose to victory at Wimbledon against Andre Agassi. My enthusiasm for tennis grew even greater as we watched the thrilling competition between these 2 American champions. It was so good that we looked forward to another duel between them in the 1999 US open. To me they were the reason for loving the sport.

Pistol Pete did realize the opportunity to win yet another Grand Slam title, making it to the final but was unexpectedly forced to drop out of the tournament due to a significant back injury. A physical setback that I am all too familiar with myself. His exit from the ’99 Open yielded a shift in my focus as a fan of the Americans. Women’s tennis infiltrated my life as I watched Serena Williams begin construction on a historical career as athlete, champion and conqueror.

She beat her sister Venus at age 17 and became the first Williams sister to win a Grand Slam single‘s title. All eyes remained on Venus as she too would excel to historical greatness in her own right. I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Venus at Charleston and NYC later on in life. But unfortunately, I have not been able to see Serena play live yet. However, what I have had the blessing to realize, as a result of consistently following her career, is a heralding athletic example that personifies a conqueror lifestyle.

From ’99-’04 I sat in front of my TV and watched every tournament she played in, and there were many victories. The infamous cat suit at the US open was just one of the highlights of her invincibility. Everything about her was appealing to me – her look, her body, her game and her life. It was good to gain access into her budding life outside of the tennis world through various exposure outlets. But her career would eventually realize the strains of maturity as she had to learn to contend with injuries, game losses, family tragedy, personal heartache and failure.

We counted her all but gone as the start of the tennis season began in 2007 down under. When she took her place in the Rod Laver  arena again it was a bitter-sweet showing. As a fan I was happy to see her back where she belonged for our viewership and the value of her  entertainment would again be realized. Yet her blatant lack of physical training presented a Serena that was not the norm. Honestly, I, along with countless others, remained pessimistic about any real opportunity for her game to prevail. BUT IT DID! Against all the odds and the opposition of new players and old foes, Serena emerged as a CONQUEROR of the sport of women’s tennis to win the Australian Open for a 3rd time in her continuing career. She was not done.

Subsequently, Serena’s career would again experience a higher intensity of extreme setbacks, designed to alter the foundation of her monumental career. A verbal outburst would define a devastating loss on the all too familiar Arthur Ashe Stadium, where she vanquished her opponents 3 times prior. Sorrowfully we watched Serena explode in a display of anger that I understood. The issues – personal and professional were obviously affecting her standing example of grace under pressure. Growing pains have a way of manifesting outwardly to where onlookers – supporters and haters alike – clearly offer insights that destructively miss the mark. Yet those of us who have the gifts of empathy and compassion know that the best response you can offer to someone who is not handling the effects of growing pains well is to encourage them in the faith and pray for God’s continued grace and mercy to prevail.

The shift would continue with more physical injuries, some grave . Yet Ms. Williams maintains her pursuit to take part in the sport, which her dad introduced her to as a child, against all odds. I read an article in People magazine while I was at my doctor’s office. Serena made it clear her determination to walk back on a Grand Slam court again, even after surviving a PE and all the medical therapy associated with recovery. Shortly afterwards, Serena Williams, garbed in signature Wimbledon white attire gracing the freshly cut grass on Centre Court, would again experience all the emotional joy she came to know along her career. Yet this time her response yielded the infamous “tears of joy” that I identified to as I desperately desired a “win” in my life again. My personal anticipation received a boost while watching her once again show me what victory looks like publicly.

It’s a difficult task to perform and achieve what many have said is “the impossible” as they know of your struggles. Courage becomes a crucial reality. I know of many personal struggles life has acquainted me with during my lifetime where so many friends, family and loved ones counted me out.  But God’s grace shows up in so many wonderful experiences and the blessings continue as I see examples displaying how His power prevails.  Serena’s continued success is a beacon of light in my life and I hope so many others are getting the same lessons.

Every time Serena steps on a court to play another tennis match it is inspiring to the most troubled soul who is watching. As an athlete and champion, Serena offers every one of her millions of viewers confirmation of just how possible the impossible is. I have taken the opportunity to label her as a conqueror when I can, not because of her spiritual choices – I do not know how they work for her – but as I continue to write, teach, preach and represent Romans 8:37 “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” I continue to see how this declarative statement made by the Apostle Paul materializes through the example of an athlete in the career of Ms. Serena Williams.

Thank you Lord for giving us the realm of athletics, specifically individual head to head sports like tennis, to prove what your Son did at Calvary for all who would by faith believe.

 

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Breaking Through Your Fears


Words of Faith

by Alta Payne on Sunday, January 15, 2012 at 7:35am

I remember years ago I went to the Rotary Youth Leadership Conference and throughout that week I attended a series of seminars that educated me on how to be an effective leader. One of the seminars that I attended was called “Breaking Through Your Fears”. The speaker gave a presentation.When he finished he asked us to do something a little strange. The instruction was to pair up with one someone next to us and prepare to learn how to break through a wooden board. I remember thinking “I signed up for seminar not a Martial Arts Class.This cat must be out of his mind!”

Most of us were intimidated by the task at hand. We felt that it would take great strength to break through a solid wooden board. All kinds of questions and doubts arose in our minds. I remember whispering to my partner, “I don’t think I’m going to be able to do it!” “What will I do if I break a finger or fracture my hand?”

We really didn’t have a choice in the matter. The entire group was required to at least try. The instructor spent the first few minutes teaching us the proper technique for hitting the board. Once we got that down pat, it was time to give it a shot. My partner went first. I held the board and she broke right through it on the first try.  The first time I hit the board it didn’t break. The instructor was standing there, and he said, “That’s o.k.Try again, but this time I want you to look through the board”. He said, “Don’t look at it, look through it and visualize your hand going through it.”  What he told me sounded a little weird. I was still a teenager and I lacked maturity and wisdom in this area.

Nevertheless, I listened to what he said and I hit the board a second time. I broke that board in pieces. But I didn’t realize until later in life that what the instructor taught me that day was a very valuable lesson.  I learned not to focus on an obstacle. In order to get through the obstacle I have to excercise faith to “Look Through It, to Get Through It.

You have to see yourself on the other side of it. He also taught me that it’s not always about strength, but it’s about vision. When you run out of Strength, it’s Vision that keeps your hopes and dreams alive. The vision is a result of faith. Even though everything around you may look dim, it is faith in God that will allow you to see a ray of hope. Fear is only an obstacle. Faith is how breakthroughs begin.