Speed skating — at any step along the way, I could have given up. I could have quietly packed my bags and headed home. Just another athlete who woke up and saw the folly of an Olympic dream, I had every reason in the world to quit.
But how could I explain that I was giving up to my mother who was fighting multiple myeloma back home? How would walking away honor my father, who died of a heart attack when I was 18? What would I tell my siblings who raised me on roller skates since I was 11 months old? What would I tell my little nieces and nephews who look up to me? What would I tell my church family back in Michigan who had been rooting for me since day one?
I couldn’t walk away. Something — or Someone — still drove me through many obstacles.
It looked as though time was against me. I have been working on mastering the skating techniques for less than three years now. For the first two years, I could barely balance on one skate. Some consider it an extreme waste of time to try to learn the right technique for such a lofty goal as the Olympics.
It looked as though financial support was against me. I had one sponsor who provided me with some equipment and a little bit of money. However, I still had to work at a roller-skating rink as a DJ in order to pay for rent and coaching, among many other things. Some months I didn’t know how I was going to buy groceries.
For many years, it looked like my coaching situation was working against me. For the first two years, I was searching for the right coach with the right program and the right heart. I found that in Kip Carpenter and here I am today with my dream in the palm of my hand. All I have to do is grab onto it in the final Olympic Trials.
But my family situation was against me. With my mother undergoing chemo treatments and my father passing away in 2001, times got really tough, to say the least. Then in late December, my mother also passed away.
From an outside perspective, it looked as though I had too many things working against me. People expected failure. But I had one thing going for me: God.
I had accepted Christ as my Savior just before I made the decision to train for the Olympics in ice speed skating in 2006. I was training for weightlifting at a gym in Toledo, Ohio, and I started pouring out some of my troubles to a woman. Without hesitation, she asked me if I would like to pray. We prayed right then and there on the floor at the gym. I said yes, and that is when the magic started to happen. It goes to show that God is everywhere! God is on the floor of my local gym and He is in my bedroom at 3 a.m. when I am pouring my life out to Him!
It was strange because God didn’t solve my problems. But it seemed as though He was giving me the strength to handle more. I had to remind myself every day of why I was pursuing this dream. When I came to Milwaukee I told myself that whether I succeed or fall flat on my face, I’m going to learn something. God was opening a door for me and I had to walk through.
I realize that it’s not about me at all. It’s about finishing what I started. It’s about my family. It’s about the people who did all the small things for me, drove me to practice and cheered for me and held me up when I struggled. I press on to honor them and do my best and thank them for allowing me to do what I love, and most of all, to give glory to God.
I thank God every day for the lessons He has taught me along this journey. I went to Milwaukee with the understanding that I may fail in the eyes of the world and that pursuing this dream is a major risk. I may fall flat on my face. But I made a promise to learn. And I’ve learned that success is not defined by the outcome, but by the courage, it takes to chase God-sized dreams.
— Jilleanne Rookard, USA Speed Skater