Finish the Race

Track Runner in Race
Olympian, Derek Redmond being helped across the finish line by his father, Jim

July 23 – August 8 the 2021 Summer Olympics will be held in Tokyo, Japan, with over 11,200 athletes worldwide expected to participate. As in any sports endeavor the focus will be on those who win. 

Let’s think back to the 1992 Olympic Summer Games in Barcelona, Spain, and consider an athlete who didn’t win but will be remembered in one of the greatest sports stories of all time. 

Derek Redmond, a British runner, had shattered his country’s 400-meter record when only 19. In the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea, Derek suffered an Achilles tendon injury just 10 minutes before the 400-meter race and went through numerous surgeries the next year. Now, in Barcelona, it was Derek’s time. He desperately wanted to win…not just the gold medal but any medal he could get.

In the semifinal 400-meter race, if Derek was among the top four runners to finish, it would qualify him for the Olympic final. He broke from the pack to seize the lead. Surely he would make the final race. Down the backstretch only 175 yards from the finish line Derek’s hamstring snapped. He could no longer run but began hopping on one leg, slowly and painfully. He then fell to the ground. As tears streamed from his eyes he said to himself, “I’m out of the Olympics—again.” A medical team reached Derek with a stretcher but he replied, “There’s no way I’m getting on that stretcher. I’m going to finish my race.” 

In a stadium filled with 65,000, from Section 131, Row 22, Seat 25, Derek’s father, Jim, who always attended the sports events with him, was crying, “Oh, no.” He began to run down the stadium steps, jumping over the guard rail and pushing aside security guards who were trying to stop him. Jim and his son had agreed, that no matter what happened, Derek must finish the race. 

Derek had stood up and was again hobbling forward. Jim reached him, put his arm around his son, placed Derek’s arm around his shoulders as Derek said, “Get me to lane five, Dad, I want to finish the race.” 

The stadium crowd, and millions watching worldwide by television, stood to its feet in thunderous applause as everyone watched a father and his son struggle toward the finish line. The race was already over, but with loving support and challenging commitment the two pushed ahead. Just a short distance from the finish line, the father released Derek to cross on his own. 

Derek didn’t win….or did he? Such deep love and focus are seldom seen. 

What can be learned from the Derek and Jim Redmond saga? 

So often our goals seem shattered! Our obstacles are too great! Our pain is insurmountable and our focus blurred! Who cares if we finish the race? 

That’s when the Father, who is always with us in every circumstance of life, steps in. He places his strong arms around us and gives us His shoulders to lean on. He walks with us through the pain and tears. He gives us the support and strength to continue and He enables us to finish the race. 

We cannot continue to lay down in our failure! We cannot let others carry us off the track! We cannot just run the race; we must finish it! 

What a love story. Let’s strive to be like Paul as expressed in II Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” 

Till next time,
-Don Johnson, Kirby Pines Chaplain