CBN.com “Winning the silver medal was pretty huge. We were not necessarily picked to win. So for us race day was pretty huge to walk away with three out of six medals.”
As thrilling as her medal win was, for firefighter turned bobsledder Lea Ann Parsley the opening ceremony was the pinnacle of her 2002 Olympic experience.
“On the day of opening ceremonies, I was asked to be one of eight athletes to carry in the World Trade Center flag that was found at ground zero,” Lea Ann recalls. “As a firefighter, that was just huge for me. It just really made me feel like I wasn’t just representing my team being out there, I was representing all the firefighters. A lot of the guys who brought the flag there were New York City firefighters.”
When Lea Ann wasn’t sliding headfirst down an icy track at 70 miles an hour, she was running into burning buildings!
“Fighting fire is dangerous. A lot of people ask me, ‘Why would you want to run into a building when everyone else is running out?’ You get to a point where you’ve trained so much that what you’re doing sort of becomes more instinct than having to think about it.”
Lea Ann’s family shaped her values of loving and serving others. She grew up in a small Ohio town where she developed two burning passions – faith in Christ and fighting fires.
“So at 12, I was riding my bicycle up there following them on fire calls, and I’d wait for the fire trucks to pull back in and help ‘em wash ‘em and put the hoses back on and stuff. When I got to be 16 they said, ‘You can do this if you want to.’ And I said, ‘Oh, absolutely. I want to ride now. It’s my turn. I’ve washed enough of these. I want to ride ‘em now.’ I got to the point where I liked it so much I went from being a volunteer to being a paid.”
Her faith journey also started when she was young. Lea Ann says testing the validity of her beliefs in everyday life has been the key to her confidence in Christ.
“As I’ve grown older I’ve realized how much I am trying to bring my faith into my life in every aspect, whether it’s my school work, my work work, or my athletic work. As my own beliefs have grown stronger, I have tried to make sure that I am including my Savior [in] everything that I’m doing. That means flying down a track at 80 miles an hour, what does that mean? What can we do with that, Lord? What can I bring to you from this experience?”
The most crushing experience for Lea Ann was having her 2006 Olympic dreams shattered by a freak accident. Last year she and a teammate were badly injured by a runaway bobsled.
“Unfortunately the gentleman failed to brake, and the bobsled shot out of control out of the track and hit five of us. My teammate broke her leg. My right leg had a lot of severe soft tissue injuries and thank goodness everyone else was okay.”
Their hopes of a medal sweep in the women’s skeleton bobsled competition in Torino ended at that moment. Both sustained injuries that kept them out of the 2006 Winter Games.
“It made me think back to something that Job said to the Lord: ‘Tho You slay me, yet will I hope in you.’ And I thought, Whether I crash on this run or not, I have my hope in Him. Maybe something will even come good out of a crash.
“So I ended up retiring and putting a different hat on. That was a coach’s hat. They asked me to stay with the team and help them through the World Cup season to try to earn their Olympic spots. We did that, and a couple weeks ago they said, ‘Do you want to keep going with us and help us out in Torino?’”
So instead of sliding down the track in Torino hoping to win a second Olympic medal, Lea Ann finds herself in a supporting role—as an assistant coach to the women’s bobsled team.
“I’m trying to help them get down the hill faster, but I’m also trying to teach them how to be a good teammate; how to succeed being out on the road and in a tough competitive world; not getting all wrapped up in that; and remembering who they are and why they’re there. So that’s kind of the struggle -- being able to keep them on the bigger picture of things.
“I guess that’s the excitement of giving your life to the Lord. You just have no idea what he’s going to do with it. That’s Jesus Christ. He’s in there. He’s part of my life, and He’s my answer. So I’m just grateful that I’ve been given so many of those kinds of opportunities to do that, whether it’s at the firehouse or whether it’s out at the track.”
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