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Laurels of Victory

One of the most gripping motion pictures of all times was the 1981 Oscar-award-winning, Chariots of Fire. Set around the early twentieth century, it made the name of Olympic runner Eric Liddell, a household word overnight.

But it wasn’t the movie which gave people inspiration, so much as the unusual man behind the story. Although the motion picture didn’t tell what happened AFTER Liddell’s fame as a Olympic gold medalist, that story is even more inspiring.

Liddell, born January 16, 1902, to Scottish missionary parents in China, was sent to a British boarding school at age six, and continued his education that way for twelve years. While in school he excelled in sports like rugby, but especially in running short-distance races. He seemed to have wings on his feet.

Chosen to represent Great Britain in the 1924 Paris Olympics, Liddell, a devoted Christian, made a monumental decision which caused quite a stir—and which made him famous.

When this gifted athlete found that what he had trained for-- the 100-meter race-- was to be held on Sunday, he withdrew from the race. Choosing to honor the Biblical injunction that the Sabbath (Sunday) was to be used solely for rest and worship, he chose instead to run the longer 440-meter race on another day.

Just before Liddell went to the starting block, an American handed him a scrap of paper with these words from I Samuel 2:30 in the Bible: ”Them that honour me I will honour.” How prophetic they were!

Liddell left the starting block at full speed, instead of pacing himself like his fellow runners. Those watching were certain he was making a big mistake. Surely he would run out of energy before the race ended!

Just when spectators thought his energy would fail, Eric kicked in even faster, with his famous chest out, head back, arm-flailing style—and was first across the finish line, receiving the Olympic gold medal for the 440 event.

Eric Liddell being carried through the streets of Paris after winning a 1924 Olympic Gold Medal

But it was what came AFTER the Olympic gold medal that really made Eric Liddell an inspiration to those who followed. He returned to China as a Christian missionary, following the calling of his parents, and taught science and sports at a boys’ school. His cheerful, friendly personality made people adore him wherever he went.

Then war interrupted what began as a missionary calling. The Japanese had invaded China, making it unsafe for Eric’s pregnant wife and two small daughters to stay. He sent them to Canada to live with his wife’s parents until the war was over.

Time came for those at the school to move to an interment camp. Eric led the procession, singing songs and keeping the students’ spirits buoyed. Once at the camp, he became a one-man working machine. Knowing that regular activities would create a more secure environment for the young people, Eric continued to teach classes and organize recreational activities and Bible studies. In addition, he worked in the kitchen, almost apologetic that he couldn’t do more.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill arranged Liddell’s release from the interment camp; however, in the spirit of Christian charity which characterized his life, Eric gave it up to a woman who was expecting a baby.

Liddell continued corresponding with his wife and assuring her that he was keeping busy. What he didn’t tell her about, however, was the horrendous headaches he began having.

He died of a brain tumor on February 21, 1945, just six months before those in the camp were liberated. "Uncle Eric" was missed terribly, especially by the young people he loved so well.

A famous statement made by this prize athlete and missionary, seemed to characterize his life: “In the dust of defeat as well as the laurels of victory, there is glory to be found if one has done his best.”

What about you? Have you been inspired by anyone in the past? Feel free to comment below.

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