Mary Cain is a seventeen year old high school student from the Bronx, New York. She is an animal lover, a book lover, and an honor student. Oh, and she recently qualified for the world track and field championships in London, England. After running the fastest 800 time ever for a high school girl (1:59.51), she went on to break six more national high school records in a range of events in 2013.
Mary Cain’s story is interesting because it is not typical. She wasn’t groomed to be an athlete- she is simply the second of four girls born to her non-athletic parents Charlie and Mary Sr. But she was born with a gift to run. I think the appreciation of that natural gift is something that’s lacking in our culture. Too often, being a successful athlete equates with wearing neon Nikes and only associating with people who can jump as high as you. In more ways than one, Mary Cain’s success is smashing these stereotypes.
The 5’6″, 117 pound high school senior might often look out of place among the world’s best runners. She loves to run, but she doesn’t live to run. That one vowel difference is completely vital to the mentality of an athlete. Of course she trains hard- you can’t qualify for the most elite track meet in the world by lying on the couch. But Mary also maintains a healthy balance of friendships, family, and academics. Why is it that so often athletes feel the need to scorn those areas of life? Well, maybe because in the world of sports, bigger bodies, more medals, and more endorsements mean more fulfillment.
Burn out happens. Age takes it toll on us whether we like it or not. With that in mind, I think all athletes, and even more broadly all Christians, need to remember that our performance can’t be elite forever. When those lightning quick reflexes feel more like an old light bulb flickering on, what is left? When we have neglected all else in pursuit of one more accomplishment, where do we turn? In the end, relationship with Christ is the only thing that continues to grow, continues to produce joy, and gives us a hope greater than life itself.
For the mind of an athlete, Mary’s perspective is one we can all learn from. Her Catholic background, her youth, and her appreciation of things non-athletic keeps her grounded. In an interview with Sports Illustrated, she said, “Even if this is the best year I ever have in my life, I’ve experienced a hell of a lot.” Bluntly put, but refreshingly so. Athletic abilities are a gift from God, but not His richest one. The gift of eternal life is so much greater that gold medals seem dim in comparison.
As Mary Cain goes on smashing records and stereotypes, we can all learn from her naive yet wise admission that the finish line on the track is not the end. It’s not just about the first lap, or the second, or the last. Instead, the sum of all our laps, all our actions, and every endeavor (athletic or not), can be seen as a race for the glory of God in heaven. And as Paul said, let us run it with endurance.