With the Winter Olympics going on in Sochi, Russia, we are running chapters from the 1996 DPI book The Heart of a Champion. Here is the second of these. We will conclude next week with the famous "Miracle on Ice" in Lake Placid in 1980.
Lis Hartel , Equestrian, Denmark
It was 1944. Lis Hartel, a 23-year-old equestrian, was pregnant when she received devastating news: She had polio, a feared crippler. As a result, this young woman with great ambitions was left almost entirely paralyzed. Who, in her shoes, would not have felt discouraged? But Lis Hartel was a determined woman. She refused to surrender to this cruel disease and began an intense physical therapy program. Slowly, through tedious training she began to regain use of her arms and, later, her legs.
Before the onset of her illness, Lis had competed in the equestrian event known as dressage, one in which the horse and rider perform various maneuvers with no oral command. The rider and horse must be united completely as points are lost for lack of symmetry. Dressage has its origins in military history as a sport only for the noble and the elite. The exercise was practiced by Napoleon’s famous horsemen and imperial guard.
But in the 1940s, polio was not Lis’ only problem. She dreamed of performing in the Olympics, but the Olympic committee had not opened dressage to female riders.In fact, only male commissioned officers were allowed to enter. However, as she worked to rehabilitate herself, times were changing. By 1952 the doors for women were opened, and Lis was ready.
Although still challenged by legs that did not work normally, she earned a place on the Danish equestrian team in both the 1952 and 1956 Olympics. She needed assistance to mount and dismount her horse, but once in the saddle, she competed with poise and grace. In a sport where fluency of motion is scrutinized, the weakness and jerky movements that often come with polio could have been detrimental. Yet, Lis performed in unison with her horse and won the silver medal. Four years later she repeated her amazing success taking another silver medal at the Melbourne Olympiad. Each time she had to humbly accept help onto the winners’ platform, but she proved what a heart full of determination can do.
"This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word,retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.
We get introduced to the real Jesus. We learn of his plan for our lives. We become his disciples and start dreaming about ways God can use us. But then “polio” strikes. It may be a health problem or a difficult marriage or a family situation. It may be unemployment or other financial challenges. Discouragement can come in many forms. Our spiritual enemy seems to find something that will hit us all.
It is at these times that we need great conviction that God’s way is so right that we will be determined to stay with the goals, the plans and the dreams no matter what it may take. When Lis Hartel started her career as an equestrian, she had no idea she would have to deal with the added burden of polio. Competing at this high level was challenging enough, and when the polio hit, it would have been easy to have said, “I hadn’t counted on this. Guess that’s it for this dream.” But she was determined—determined to deal with the unexpected, and not allow the unexpected to become a deterrent.
As we take up the cross and follow Jesus, we will all get hit by some of those “unexpected things.” They will test our hearts, test our resolve, and test our commitment. But if we have the good heart—the heart of a champion—we will not “fall away.” We will retain that word we have heard from God, and we will persevere. Our goal will be more important than our problem. Our God will be bigger than the obstacle.
We may feel the hit. We may ask questions. We may do some agonizing. We may need some long sessions of crying out to God, but if we understand who Jesus is, we will go to rehab, and we will do whatever God says it takes to get back on that horse and ride for him.
Into Your Life
1. What obstacles have you already encountered in your Christian life? How did you respond? What did you learn about responses to future obstacles?
2. What challenge can you think of that makes your heart sink and causes you to say, “I just couldn’t handle that”? Look up scriptures that can change your attitude and spend some time praying for more faith.
3. When bad things happen, what lies of Satan are you tempted to believe? How do you recognize and disarm those lies?
4. How does Romans 8:18 give perspective when times of difficulty come?