Paralympic Hope: Reflections on the Holy Spirit

by Shelby Turner

Paralympic runner David Brown is set to take the track at the Tokyo Games this Saturday. He is the fastest Paralympic runner in the T11 class in the world, able to sprint the 100m dash in just 10.99 seconds. He won gold in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, and he has a good chance of topping the podium again this summer. Like all Olympic and Paralympic athletes, his secret to success is a relentless dedication to his craft. But, in his case, success also depends on something else, something unexpected–a thin, heavily knotted shoelace looped around his hand and the hand of his guide runner.

Brown is blind. He runs every race side by side with a guide. The guide keeps Brown on the track and in the proper lane. Before the race, he places Brown’s hands behind the thick white starting line and guides his feet onto the starting blocks. Once they are off and running, he tells Brown when to lean into the curve and when to give it his all in a final push. No one celebrates Brown’s victories more passionately than his guide.

From 2014 to early 2021, Brown’s guide runner was Jerome Avery. Together they won Paralympic medals and world championships. A simple shoelace bound Brown and Avery together hand to hand. The length of the shoelace? A mere 6-inches. But they said there was no tension in the string. They had learned to run in synchronized harmony. And they had to run in perfect sync if they wanted to win. Their feet strode in perfectly matched steps. If you watched them race from the side, you would have seen one man, not two.

You can google David Brown and Jerome Avery to see inspiring interviews, race videos, and even a few documentaries about their special running relationship. But this story is so much more than a feel-good moment. It may be the best picture I have ever seen to showcase our dependance on Christ and our need to stay in step with the Holy Spirit.

Brown’s lack of sight causes him to need the help of Avery. He may have never won in the 2016 Paralympics despite his ability to sprint at record-setting paces. But with Avery guiding him, he became an Paralympic gold medalist. And Avery’s partnership gave so much more than just eyes that see the track. With every step, Avery was coaching, encouraging, and propelling Brown forward. “Push! Push! We’re winning David! We’re winning David!” He could be heard saying as they approached the finish line. Brown said about running with Avery, “I run more confidently because I have him right there. Being tethered to him, all I have to worry about is just listening to him.”

A sighted athlete performs alone. They may train alongside their coach and teammates, yet they line up and race solo. But Brown has a partner that takes every step he takes, only inches between them. He gets second by second coaching and correction. And isn’t that just how we should be with the indwelling Holy Spirit?

The Holy Spirit is right there with us. The Holy Spirit is our helper, constantly beside us, admonishing, correcting, encouraging, and keeping us on course. And more than that, the Holy Spirit actually empowers us to run the race well, all we need to do is listen to Him. We see that the Holy Spirit does this in Ephesians 3:16-17 when Paul writes, “I pray that he may grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with power in your inner being through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” So, as Paul writes in Galatians 5:25, “let us also keep in step with the Spirit.”

I wonder if you feel out of step with Jesus today? Maybe you have forgotten that if you have committed your life to Him, He is right next to you. You are never left alone. Jesus is the one who will walk beside you each step, guiding you toward eternity with love and purpose. We can lean on Him for guidance as the Holy Spirit gives instruction and encouragement every step of the way.

In the story of Paralympic hopeful Brown and his guide, I see this glorious truth beautifully illustrated. And I pray that through it, you too will see Christ’s work in you more clearly, and stay tethered to the Holy Spirit, listening to His coaching and correcting.

I know I’ll be cheering Brown to a win when he makes his Tokyo debut. And with each step he takes alongside his guide, I’ll see myself tethered to my Savior, who is leading me on in the race of life.

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