Michael Phelps has been using special Speedo swimwear which has been claimed to have shaved off time during his races. As a result, he has been disqualified and will lose his medals. Well, actually, this is not true. I mean, the Speedo thing shaving off time is, but it is perfectly legal and will most likely make a lot of money in the future for the Speedo corporation. But, Michael Phelps is not disqualified. But, what if it was true? What if my faulty headline was actually a fault of his. What if Michael Phelps intentionally (or unintentionally) cheated and lost all of his gold. All that hard work, discipline of training and sacrifice for nothing... Imagine the weight of that loss for him, our country and the swimming community.
I read an article about this amazing swimmer the other day and it reminded me of something...
Here are two excerpts, the first in regards to his training and the second in regards to his coaching:
"When I didn't medal (in Sydney, Australia as a 15 year old) I was like, 'All right, well, then I'm going to do this.' " Within seven months, he set a world record in the 200 butterfly.
Even now, Phelps trains every day — including Sundays, figuring it gives him 52 more days a year in the pool than many of his competitors.
In peak training phases, Phelps will swim at least 80,000 meters a week nearly 50 miles in a week.(50 meters is one lap, so he swims 1600 laps in a week which is 228 laps a day which is 7 miles a day, swimming). That includes two practices a day, sometimes three when he's training at altitude.
Bowman hasn't just coached hard. He's coached completely. Any phase of Phelps' life that pertains to swimming falls under Bowman's aegis.
"Bob teaches him, advises him, guides him, pushes him," said American national team head coach Mark Schubert.
Phelps' stroke mechanics all have been sculpted by Bowman. He's tinkered for years with every component, until Phelps' form has approached perfection.
Workouts? Of course Bowman is in charge there, too. But also warm-ups, warm-downs, stretching, massages, calorie intake and meal times, too. The daily routine runs on Bowman Standard Time.
Take, for instance, Bowman's recitation of Phelps' schedule Thursday in Beijing:
"We had breakfast at 8. We usually have breakfast at 7, but this morning, it was at 8. Before that, he usually takes a shower, so at 7:30, he was up and showered. We went at 8 for breakfast. At 8:30, we were on a bus to [the Water Cube], then we did some stretching and warm-ups for 30 to 40 minutes. Then he puts on his [competition] suit and does more warm-ups. Then he swims, and after that, he has lactose testing to make sure everything's in order. Today, he had a massage -- normally he has doping, [but] he didn't today. He always has a massage. Then he'll eat, take a nap and then come back on the bus and do it all again, usually twice a day. I always plan those warm-ups so they are exactly timed. He starts stretching two hours before [a race] and is in the water an hour and a half before. He's always done those things, really."
That sound hands-on enough?"
So, after I read about his training and his coaching, I thought instantly of passage of scripture from 1 Cor. 9:24-27:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.  Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.  Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air.  No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
I thought of the strict training: 7 miles a day swimming, weights, disciplined eating and a sacrificial lifestyle for four years.
I thought of the prize: yeah, there is a silver and a bronze, but people really only care about the gold.
I thought about the crown that will not last: where will those gold medals be in 100 years. In a museum? In a box? On a son or grandson's mantle?
I thought of myself and I said, "Do I approach my Christianity with the same drive, dedication and commitment that Michael Phelps does with winning in the Olympics? Is it my whole life's goal to win the prize that will last?" Do I have "coaches" who guide me with the same intensity?
I mean, consider if you were going to be competing in an event tomorrow in the Olympics with the same degree of training you commit to your spiritual life now. How would you do? I am humbled and must confess that I would not do very well. But, think of the stakes: We are talking about a crown that will last forever. Is there anything else that compares here on earth? Is there any better way to spend our time? I want that crown. I want the rewards. I want my life to count regardless of the cost here. Realistically, there is no cost I should not be willing to pay for the cause for which I am committed.
How have we got to this place where this kind of commitment is shrugged off as legalism or abnormal or over the top? How has this become anything but normal?
And so back to where I started, the part about being disqualified. Paul says, he beats his body and makes it his slave so he will not be disqualified from the prize. I don't believe that Paul is saying that he was afraid that he would lose his salvation just as if Michael Phelps was disqualified, he would still be a swimmer. Rather, I believe he was saying that he would lose his rewards by allowing his body to master him or by losing sight of his mission or by losing focus of why he existed. In essence, just as it is realistic to think that Michael Phelps would not have won the races he entered (in this context, he would have been disqualified from the gold) if he would not have trained as he did, I wonder what rewards we miss out on (in essence, disqualified from) by failing to train and discipline ourselves in the same way.
It is a hard question to ask and even harder question to answer considering the implications. Do we really believe that Heaven is real, that how we live here matters for eternity and if so, how does the way we live our lives show that? Is Christ really the center of our lives so that everything centers on that one goal that Paul had, "Ga 6:14 - But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."
May the center of our life revolve around the cross of Christ. May everything we do and say and think about and purpose furthers this goal of being trained and available to do whatever works God has planned for us to do. May we never be out of shape (in our studying of the word or working out the fruits of the Spirit or growing in our heart for the poor or cultivating accountable relationships) so that we miss out on the prize God has prepared for us from ages past. May we have friendships that know our strengths and weaknesses and push us and challenge us to grow deeper and be available for more than we ever would have been before.
So what now? When my wife and I were training for our marathon, we learned something crazy. We didn't run the marathon, the marathon ran us. It changed how we ate, slept, drank, what activities we did and didn't do, and so much more. Our lives centered around this training. I learned how much easier and more motivated I was to train when I had something I was training for. There are some people who run just to run. I am not one of them. I learned that I need a goal and something I am training for. Second, when we were training for the marathon, we would meet with a bunch of people on Saturday to run with. This accountability was especially helpful during the long training runs. We had coaches who helped us and challenged us and encouraged us during these hard days of running. They gave us a running schedule, helped decipher our injuries and shared stories about their successes and failures.
I think what we learn from the success of Michael Phelps is the necessity of a coach and a goal to train for... Do you have anyone in your life who is helping shape and change and guide you? Are you doing that for anyone else? How about goals? How does the "prize" of all prizes shape your every day?
Oh, and sorry for my faulty headline... Just thought it might get your attention.