I’m sitting in our indoor football facility watching people warm up and I’m feeling nostalgic. This will be my last SEC Championships ever. I figured now would be a pretty good time to share a little about my journey and the purpose behind my running.
My first love has always been basketball. I love everything about the game and dreamed of playing at the collegiate and professional levels. I had this elaborate plan about how I could use basketball for God’s glory, all the while playing the game I loved. It was my will and it was perfect…but there was a problem. The problem was that it was my will, not the Lord’s. In my mind, because I wanted to use basketball to glorify Christ, I automatically thought that it was His will too, and so I tried to force it. I didn’t approach this aspect of my life with an open heart, or give it to God, because I wanted it so badly. I’ve since learned that even though we may want to use things to glorify God, it doesn’t mean that it’s His perfect will for us.
A String Of Injuries
When I was 14 years old, I tore my ACL and meniscus for the first time. At the time, I was going into my freshman year of high school and was eager to get back on the basketball court. The injury forced me to lean on my faith and family, and rehab hard. In time, I came back, started playing, and all was well again. Then, my sophomore year, I tore my ACL and meniscus a second time. Same process, same mindset.
By the time junior year rolled around, I found myself facing a third surgery. Each surgery was a year-long recovery that came with new obstacles that became increasingly more challenging, both mentally and physically. I was beyond upset, but kept seeking Christ and working hard. As a result of my injuries, I was battling extreme anxiety about what was next. With each surgery, I slipped deeper into depression and, although I felt these emotions, I still had an underlying peace that could only come from Jesus.
That same year, I received a blessing in the form of a mission trip. Since I couldn’t play in our team’s spring break tournament due to my injury, I was able to go to El Salvador with IPourLife, a local nonprofit. In El Salvador, we had the opportunity to speak truth about Jesus to children and adults alike. Their joy was contagious and Jesus was so evident! We saw the Lord move in crazy ways and change so many lives.
One of my favorite parts of the trip was our ice breaker activities. I used the activities as a way to lighten the mood, so I did dribbling tricks on stage before we started talking with everyone. I also had the opportunity to play basketball with the kids, and I was amazed at the connections we were able to form. The Lord was able to use basketball in ways I never thought possible.
My senior year, I was still feeling anxious about where I was going to go. My club coaches repeatedly told me all I needed to do was stay healthy and I could play wherever I wanted. However, I only had my senior year of school ball left to get recruited. No fall ball. No summer ball. Just one last season. I was medically released about one-quarter into the season. A few games in, schools started calling me. I was about to receive an offer and I was overjoyed!
I would hear, “Syd, we want you to come in and start for us. We make the NCAA Division I tournament just about every year, and we want you to lead us next year. We just need to see you play one game and then we’re ready to offer.”
One game. That’s all it was going to take.
I remember praying, “Thank you, Jesus! Thank you for rewarding my hard work and faithfulness.” My will was about to come true. I got on my knees that night before bed, and hesitantly prayed, “Lord, thank you. I pray that your will be done. That scares me because sometimes your will is hard. But God, if this isn’t your will, then I don’t want it.”
The next day I woke up with an adrenaline rush, ready to get that offer. That was until halfway through the second quarter I drove in for a jump shot and felt a pop. Immediately, I knew what I had done and that my career was over. I shot my free throws and walked off the court.
My parents met me in the locker room where they hugged me and I cried. I didn’t know what to do next. I had just lost the game that I loved so much and put so much time and effort into. I scheduled my fourth surgery and told myself that I could come back from it because, after all, that’s what I always do. However, when I woke up from surgery I was told everything that I had done to my knee. That day, I was medically retired and my world was rocked.
I thought to myself, who am I now that basketball is gone? And, what purpose do I have now? I felt lost because I had put my worth and identity into a game. I put my identity into something of this world that is fleeting when, really, I needed to be putting it into something that is everlasting, which is Jesus. If we put our worth in things of this world we are going to constantly be let down. Instead, we have to find our security and identity in Jesus because He is the only one who will never leave us nor forsake us. Deuteronomy 31:6 declares that truth!
My Support System
So how did I end up where I am now? The only answer is Jesus. I ran in junior high, only a couple of track meets in high school, and that was the extent of my career. There was a local college coach who helped at the rehab facility and he taught me how to run again after my first, second and third surgeries. He was the one who urged me all throughout high school to quit basketball and pursue track. At the time, I shrugged it off and thought, who in their right mind would want to run track? Honestly, I had the same feeling about track after my fourth surgery.
My parents and brothers are amazing. They helped and supported me more than I could ever explain. My mom often came into my room to listen to me cry, offering hugs and words of affirmation. She read scripture and prayed with me, made me feel loved, and reminded me that the Lord has a plan, even if we don’t always understand what that plan is. There were days I felt like I wasn’t strong enough to get through it, but she would remind me that with the Lord’s help, I am more than a conqueror.
My dad offered hugs and prayers too, but he helped me make a plan. He often came in and say, ”Okay, so here’s where you’re at. Where do you want to go next?” Together, we came up with goals and action steps to get there. We celebrated the little milestones along the way, which was so helpful because it helped me rejoice in the small victories instead of looking at an end goal that seemed far away. My parents were the perfect team, loving and supporting me. Then, they both started asking me, what about track?
In large part due to their encouragement, I decided to take a visit and it just didn’t feel right. My feelings about track still hadn’t changed but, this time, I continued to pray and seek His will instead of mine. The Lord changed my heart and I decided I would give track a try.
Taking a leap of faith, I emailed the University of Arkansas. I remember typing the message around 11 p.m. My parents told me it might be better to wait until the next day to send it, but I had this feeling that I needed to send it right then. The email was something along the lines of, “Hi! So, I haven’t really ever run track…and I’ve had four knee reconstructions. I am medically retired from basketball. But, here are my junior high times. I know y’all are a top track school in the county, but please take me.”
Okay, so maybe it was a little different than that, but honestly not much!
The next morning, I woke up to a reply in my inbox. What? The University of Arkansas replied to me? Furthermore, I was told that it was perfect timing. They had just gotten back from a meet and asked me to come in the next week. So, that’s what I did.
My mom and I rolled up to Fayetteville, praying in the car for doors to be opened. I opened my Bible to read some scripture, one last time before limping into their office, and I randomly flipped to Jeremiah 31:16. “This is what the LORD says: “Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded,” declares the LORD. “They will return from the land of the enemy.” Dang! I didn’t know what that meant for this meeting, but I liked the sound of that! I know now that that doesn’t mean that just because you work hard everything you want will be given to you. But that day, that’s what I read and it felt heavy on my heart.
When Mom and I walked in, the Lord immediately began opening doors. He had very clearly gone before me because it was so easy. Next thing I know, I’m exclaiming, “Yes! I would love to go here!” I looked at my mom and smiled. I realized I had just committed to Arkansas without talking to anyone about it first, but it just felt right.
When I arrived on campus, admittedly, things weren’t rainbows and butterflies. I failed physicals and was told by Arkansas’ surgeon that my knee was so bad I would never be able to run. Once more, I found myself facing adversity. Yet in my heart, I knew that the Lord wouldn’t have opened these doors just to shut them before I ever got to walk through them. I told the doctors, “I don’t think so,” and talked my way into being reevaluated at the end of the semester. With the help of a great physical therapist and my incredible surgeon, I was cleared second semester. Still, Arkansas’s surgeon warned me that he did not think I would be able to run.
It took two years, and a lot of prayer and hard work, but in the last meet of my sophomore year I ran the 100m. I didn’t run fast, but the Lord allowed me to compete for His glory again. It was something I never thought would be possible and, quite frankly, no one around me did either.
Why I Run
Fast-forward a few years, I’m now in my fifth year and I’m running the 400m. A lot of things have changed since my first meet, but the reason why I run hasn’t.
I run for Jesus. I run freely for the One who created me. Track is extremely hard because they try to tell you that your worth is based on how fast or slow you run. But, I reject that. Romans 8:38-39 declares, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Neither a time on a clock, words from a mouth, tweet, or post, can separate me from the love of Christ.
No matter how I run or how I place, my worth does not change. Jesus doesn’t love me more or less based on my performance or the things I do. He loves me unconditionally because I am His. That’s what allows me to run freely for Him. I often find myself trying to please others with my performance, but those chains have been broken. I don’t have to run to please man, nor do I run to gain favor in the eyes of the world. I believe this to be true for all people regardless if you play a sport or not. In fact, it can be applied in any situation in life.
The desire to win is normal, especially at this level. I’m extremely competitive and it’s always the goal, but achieving the goal or not doesn’t make or break me. This year, I made the SEC Indoor Championships final and that was super exciting! Getting ready to run prelims, I find myself wanting to pray to make it again. Instead, I’m going to pray that I just bring Him glory. It doesn’t matter what I do, Lord, just allow me to be in a position to bring you glory. Whether that’s making a final or taking last, you will be glorified with every stride I take.
I am always going to try my hardest because I believe Christian athletes, or Christians in general, should be the hardest working people on the planet. Jesus died on the cross for my sins! He paid the ultimate sacrifice so I can be with Him forever. The least I can do is work my butt off for Him. I’m not justified through works, but through faith, and because of my faith I want to work hard.
There is no possible way to explain how I’m able to run except Jesus. It isn’t through my strength or because I work really hard, but through His strength. I am a super weak human and will never claim to be strong on my own. But, His power is made perfect in weakness.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10 “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
God has been using a very broken girl to proclaim His goodness and His power. I believe, and know, He can do that with all of us regardless of how broken we may be.
We don’t have to be the best to be significant, accepted, and worthy, although oftentimes it feels like that. We are accepted, worthy, and significant because Jesus says we are. No one can ever take that from us if we are living in relationship with Him. If that’s something you don’t have and want, or even just want to learn more about, please feel free to contact me and I would love to talk to you about it. Or if you have questions about my journey, feel free to hit me up for that as well.
My life has been filled with some pretty crazy stuff. If you would have asked me six years ago what I would be doing today, the answer definitely would not have been in graduate school running track at Arkansas. But thankfully, I surrendered to the Lord’s will in my life, not my own. Otherwise, I would still be miserable and placing identity in the world.
He used my basketball talents in different ways than I ever planned to glorify Him. He gave me a new passion for track and for people, and taught me so many valuable lessons along the way. My injuries were, and still are, trials that I have to deal with for the rest of my life. But, I am now thankful for them because the Lord used them, and has allowed me to learn and grow from them. The Lord’s will is always better than our own. Sometimes things might be hard, but know that He is always good.
This story was originally published by Sydney Hammit on her personal blog, smilingandsteadfast.wixsite.com on May 10.