The Olympic Spirit: Our Most Inspiring Athletes

Many Olympians have triumphant stories about what got them there. Meet seven of America’s most inspiring athletes, winners all.

A woman runs at sunrise carrying a large American flag

Rick Hamlin carrying th Olympic torch in 1984I got pretty close once to the Olympics, but my father got even closer. I’ll explain.

In 1960 Dad and his sailing partner won the North American Championship in their yachting class but finished a disappointing second in the Olympic trials—not good enough to get them to Rome that year. But Dad never seemed disheartened, let alone defeated.

Hope is what kept him competing. In fact, on a shelf at home sat an old tarnished trophy. He “won” it as a boy after his first summer of competitive sailing in southern California. Race after race he came in dead last.

Sometimes he was so slow that the committee boat had already gone home when he crossed the finish line. But he finished every race and when all the other trophies were presented that year he got this one, “The Hope Cup.” Dad was a winner after all.

He never did make it to the Olympics, but in 1984, when the Summer Games were in Los Angeles, he was in charge of the yachting venue.

That same year I had just been hired at Guideposts in New York. Going home for the Games was out of the question. In fact, Carol and I, newlyweds in a tiny Manhattan apartment, had to rent a TV to watch the events.

Dad had another suggestion. “Maybe you could carry the flame on its way to L.A.,” he said. So he made some phone calls and that’s just what I did.

Here’s a snapshot of me in my fleeting Olympic glory, carrying the torch for a mile on a rain-spattered highway in Connecticut, one of many runners passing along the flame all the way across the country that memorable year.

This summer world-class athletes from more than 200 countries will gather in London for the 2012 Games. There will be more “near winners” (like my dad) than medalists. It is the nature of competition.

But win or lose, many Olympians have triumphant stories about what got them there—persistence, prayer, determination, faith, guidance and hope. Now meet seven of America’s most inspiring athletes, winners all.

—Rick Hamlin, Executive Editor

 

Jonathan WinderGuided to Greatness and Godliness by Three Wise Men
When Olympic volleyball hopeful Jonathan Winder lost his father,
he gained three devoted mentors.

 

 

Bryan ClayFaith, Family, Track and Field
To become an Olympic champion, Bryan Clay had to commit
to being a man of God.

 

 

Janet EvansAnswering the Call of an Aquatic Passion
Years after retiring, gold medalist Janet Evans has returned to
competitive swimming.

 

 

Dotsie BauschFaith Puts Bausch's Life Back on Track
This former runway model was floundering until she turned to
cycling and prayer.

 

 

Ryan HallEach Stride Brings Him Closer to God
Marathoner Ryan Hall's career has taken off ever since he
aimed higher in choosing a coach.

 

 

Mariela ZagunisFencer Uses God's Gifts to His Greater Glory
The two-time gold-medalist puts her faith into action during
competition.

 

 

Lolo JonesJones Refuses to Let Life's Hurdles Deter Her
Prayer helps Olympic hopeful overcome setbacks in her
quest for a gold medal.