Olympian Jesse Williams: 'I Knew God Had a Plan'

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Produced in partnership with Athletes in Action.

High jumper Jesse Williams has  maintained his optimistic attitude, despite a foot injury that almost cost him a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.  

"When you're not able to mentally allow yourself to be physically 100 percent, then you're not going to jump anywhere close to your ability," he told The Oreganian.   

"I probably was physically ready to actually put pressure on my foot," Williams said. "But mentally, I just wasn't allowing myself to do it."  

The two-time Olympian has made no secret of his faith in God and how it has sustained him through triumphs and failures.  

Williams talked more about his life and faith in a recent interview with Athletes In Action. Click play to hear Williams' testimony or read the transcript below.

Athletes In Action: What is the difference between you as two-time Olympian and the people who come for the first time?

JESSE WILLIAMS: Just the experience part. I have done one Olympics and I didn't do very well. And now I kind of realize the opportunity that I did miss. And this is being a second time. A lot of people train their entire life to make the Olympic trials, and then try to make the Olympics. And to do it twice is an unbelievable experience. And I know this is my opportunity to get things done. I may never have this opportunity again, so I gotta to make it count.

AIA: Is there more pressure at the Olympic trials or here in the Olympics?

WILLIAMS: I would say there is more pressure in the Olympic trials for sure because just being here and experiencing everything that goes in the Olympics is an unbelievable thing. But if you don't have your ticket punched, then you don't get to do anything. More specifically the qualifying round is a bit of a pressure situation. But just being here, it tells itself  and it's just a great opportunity. Really, the Olympic trials is the hardest thing to get through, especially for a guy like me. I was in Eugene, I was the big favorite, and I'm here one of the favorites. But you can get lost in the mix. For me in Eugene, I had a lot of pressure I think just from the surrounding community. And here I just want to have fun and enjoy it.

AIA: Talking about pressure, what do you do personally that helps you cope and deal with that pressure, there may be a couple of different things?

WILLIAMS: The way that I deal with pressure…a lot of times I read the Word. It really helps me just know that there is more in this world than just competing and trying to achieve my personal goals. It takes my mind off everything I have been going through, which is a good thing. You need distractions that are a positive influence on my life, including reading the Word and digging in to God's Word. So that is the biggest thing for sure. I'm really, this time compared to the last time I'm trying to enjoy the whole experience. Just trying to have fun. The last time I put a little too much pressure on myself to have to do certain things and perform. And when it comes down to it I know that I'm ready, but I need to enjoy that time. This is maybe the last time I get to go to the Olympic Games, so I'll try to enjoy every opportunity.

AIA: Do you have a favorite story from the Bible that inspires, motivates, and encourages you?

WILLIAMS: Let us see, it's really hard as an athlete not to go to like David and Goliath. I mean the way the little guy comes out on top. He was so faithful to God and that's the reason he comes out on top and defeats the giant that no one can defeat. How can you not love this story? I think you can relate it to just about anything, even if you are the giant, there's always people trying to get you down, and you just have to keep your faith and stay strong.

AIA: You … you sprained your ankle the week before. What was going in your head during that time?

WILLIAMS: Well, I just knew when I sprained my ankle before the trials it was in God's hands. I made a mistake personally, and I'm not going to make this mistake again here. It is hard to find basketball courts around here unfortunately. Maybe fortunately. But I just put it in God's hands. And I jumped to the best of my ability, and I was sitting in a place that was just shaking ground. There were a couple of jumpers that had a chance to knock me off the Olympic team. And (I) just put it in God's hands. I knew that He had a plan for me. It would be tough on me not to make the Olympic team, but here I'm in London now speaking about my goals and how I'm going to do. So, it was in His plan for me to be here. That's all you can really do.

AIA: When you are out of the track… how is your faith in trusting God to get you here or pontentially not? How do you reconcile that when you were waiting and watching another guy jumping?

WILLIAMS: Really in life in general not only in competition, I mean things are going to be thrown at you that are not a part of what you think is suppose to be happening to you. As far as an Olympic athlete, the Olympics come every four years, and there are people's dreams in that village right over there that are going to be crushed. And you cannot let it bring you down as a person. Winning an Olympian gold medal, there is only one person in each event. In my event I may have 50 people. And that's everybody's ultimate goal. So when you look at it by the numbers, there are always a lot more people going to be upset than they are thrilled about how they competed. So it is really a hard thing to deal with. But that's the of nature of our sport. You have to find a happy median, especially with God. You just have to let Him take control of whatever goes on. It is hard to do because we spend so much time and so much work in to getting here and to achieving all of our goals. It is a human nature to be competitive and try to win. And when it is not going this way it is hard. But you have to find a way to deal with it with God. And I think if you don't have Him, it will be really hard for someone. But He is on my side and I know that. So whatever happens I'm going to be happy because I know it is in His plan.

AIA: So how do you demonstrate your faith when you are there competing?

WILLIAMS: When I'm out competing, the way I demonstrate my faith I guess is just to be a good looser and a good winner about everything. There is a little bit of talking going on every once in a while not to get lost in that, (but) just worry about myself and just represent Him in all my actions, not doing anything out of the box. And afterwards just giving Him the glory to whatever the outcome is, it is important whether it's a good one or bad one. At the trials I was very fortunate and definitely I give all of the glory to God because it was in His plan.

WILLIAMS: I was very fortunate growing up in a Christian home. My father was a pastor, and I grew up going to church. My mother read me Bible stories just about every night before I 'd go to bed, and we'd pray. And there was one day specifically when I was about 4 years old and I was asking my mom about heaven and hell. You know I don't want to go to hell, and what I needed to do to go to heaven, and she explained it to me. Since then, I made the connection with God and asked Him to my heart and I have been follower ever since. Obviously I have grown up a lot since then, recommitted my life a few different times. But just having Him in my life at that young age has just made me me.

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