Why I Left a Promising Gymnastics Career
I WAS a real enthusiast for gymnastics. It all started when I was fifteen years old. Night after night would find me at the local sports club. I made rapid progress and soon won national prizes in junior championships. My speciality, as a girl, was floor exercises and the balance beam. Within two years I went into senior competition, and my training became more intensified. I was chosen to be part of the National Gymnastic Team to represent Portugal in international competitions and exhibitions.
This was the opportunity for which I had been waiting. I seized it with youthful zeal. Now I could travel, gain wide experience and later establish a career in physical education. I traveled to a number of countries, including Brazil and Spain. Early in 1966 I went to France to receive specialized training for two months. If I excelled, then I was to participate both in the European championships and later in the Olympic Games in Mexico.
I returned home from France more enthusiastic than ever but was soon aware that there had been a big change in our family. My mother and sister had begun studying the Bible. They knew that they had found the truth and they wanted to share it with me. They were tactful but persistent. During the few hours I was at home, at mealtimes, they explained to me the thrilling things they were learning in the Bible. I found myself becoming interested.
After two months I was convinced that the Christian witnesses of Jehovah were teaching the truth of God’s Word. This was not just another religion—but a way of life, as Christianity should be.
Sticking to My Decision
I knew that very shortly I would have to make a big decision. That very summer international competitions were scheduled, and here I was in the midst of national eliminatory competitions. After the compulsory exercises on the first day, I was rated far in the lead in my group. This meant that even with a mediocre exhibition in the optional exercises on the second day I would be in first place.
That night I could not sleep. My mind kept thinking about the future. If I continued I would obligate myself for the next several years to pursue the objectives of the team. Is that what I really wanted? Would this sports career permit me fully to serve God? Would I not find it all the more difficult to desist, the more I advanced and assumed obligations? I weighed the future prospects and made my decision, praying to Jehovah God for strength to adhere to it.
The next morning I went to the competition, but not to participate! I told the managers about my decision to give up gymnastics. Nobody believed me. They thought I was joking. Soon, however, they realized differently. My fellow team members tried hard to convince me to continue. During the days that followed, the telephone at home rang almost constantly. Well-meaning friends tried to persuade me to reconsider and change my mind. Two managers of the club visited our home to speak to my mother in an endeavor to convince me that I was throwing away a golden opportunity. ‘This young girl, in the prime of her life, with more than a score of medals and trophies, is making too drastic a decision,’ they said.
But my decision was made. I had dedicated my life to Jehovah God and within a month I was baptized in symbol of that dedication.
Realism About Sports and Godly Devotion
Physical education had appealed to me because high esteem is placed on proper body care, nutrition, maintaining good health and body functions. Many advantages are presented to encourage participation in sports, such as the thrills of cooperative team effort, acquiring the ability to win honorably and with humility, as well as to lose with grace. Good sportsmanship is said to contribute highly to social poise.
But, from personal experience I also saw the other side of the picture. The more I shared in competitions the more it became evident that fierce competition brought to the fore jealousy, and this even among fellow team members. At times offensive remarks were made to slight the one who excelled or won first prize. When physical attributes of the body itself had developed to a remarkable degree, excessive pride and conceit were reflected by some. Constant training and hours of exercise are required to keep in form. When preparing for international competitions the demand on one’s time becomes almost total.
To many, the joy itself of participating in healthful sports activity becomes eclipsed by the passion to win. If one does win, the prize is personal fame and a name for oneself. But is this not passing glory? Are not the records of today forgotten tomorrow when the new champions are acclaimed? How true I found the words recorded in the Bible at 1 Timothy 4:8: “For bodily training is beneficial for a little; but godly devotion is beneficial for all things, as it holds promise of the life now and that which is to come”!
How rewarding have been the past two years! I suffer no lack of daily exercise. The Christian ministry of visiting the homes of people to talk to them about God’s wonderful purposes not only provides plenty of exercise but also gives one a splendid opportunity to develop Christian qualities of self-control, perseverance and humility.
It is true one gains satisfaction in excelling and winning a prize. Do I miss that feeling of striving for a prize and being rewarded? Not at all! By sharing in the ministry I am meeting the greatest challenge possible, reaching out for the prize of life everlasting.—1 John 2:25.
And joys come often in my new career. For example, several months ago I was happy when a woman asked me to begin a home Bible study with her. She made rapid progress. Previously she had been subject to violent demonic attacks, and on such occasions neighbors would run to her home bringing rosaries and various “saints” in attempts to exorcise the evil spirits. One day she told me she had disposed of more than twenty such rosaries as well as a two-foot image of “Our Lady of Fatima.” Noticing the beneficial change in his wife, the husband requested a Bible study. Husband and wife are now proclaiming the good news of God’s kingdom.
Yes, I am very happy that I chose to become a full-time proclaimer of God’s kingdom. This has given me a satisfaction I never knew before. During the past two years I have had the greatest joy imaginable in helping twenty persons to become proclaimers of God’s kingdom. I feel I am using my life in the most worthwhile way possible—the pursuit of praise, not for oneself, but for our Grand Creator.—Contributed.