by Rob Morris
Jun 28, 2012
(UPDATE - 10:50am, Friday, June 29th) Paul Le swam a 2:04.64 in Heat 5 of the Olympic trials preliminaries. That time left him outside of the top 16 swimmers who qualified for Friday night's semi's and finals)
“I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”
Olympic Gold Medal Winner and Missionary
That quote by Eric Liddell is one of the highlights of the Oscar-winning film, “Chariots of Fire.” It’s the story of a superior athlete who prizes his relationship with God over all else, even Olympic glory.
It also goes a long way towards explaining why Moore’s Paul Le is feeling pretty relaxed on the night before his last shot at making the U.S. Olympic swim team.
“I think God placed me here and gave me this opportunity to help spread his good news,” says Le, “I look at swimming as a way to express his glory.”
But don’t mistake Le’s laidback attitude for a lack of focus. He’s fully aware of the opportunity before him and he has dedicated himself to perform at his very best when he hits the pool at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha on Friday.
Le says, “I was here for another meet a few weeks ago and it was a great chance to get used to the pool. I’ve been working really hard, trying to improve.”
On Friday he’ll be swimming in the 200m backstroke, his second event of the week. Le swam in the 100m backstroke on Monday and turned in a personal best of 56.69, nearly a full second better than his fastest time to date.
That time puts him in elite company. But there’s room for only 16 swimmers in the semifinals and so at number 38, Le found himself on the outside looking in. Instead of sulking about missing the cut, the Southmoore alum has been using the time to study the competition and prepare for his next race.
“I’ve been watching everyone else swim,” says Le, “Seeing their stroke, their technique. I’m learning a lot watching them so that I can do a better job of training myself and fixing my stroke.”
It’s what you’d expect from a highly competitive swimmer like Le, who was named Oklahoma’s 6A Swimmer of the Year his senior year while winning two state titles. But it’s not the only thing on Le’s mind. In fact, it’s not even the most important thing. Like Eric Liddell, Le has a burning passion to perform at the highest levels. But it’s a passion that serves a higher calling.
“I understand that there’s a greater purpose in all you do. It’s not just for yourself. It’s for God and for others. Swimming is ultimately a way for me to help people grow deeper in their faith,” says Le.
His faith has played a key role during his freshman year at Missouri State University in Springfield. He makes sure he gets to church each week and finds time to stay involved with a couple of campus ministries. Le’s roommates also play a role in his spiritual growth.
“I have three roommates who are all pretty driven in their faith. They challenge me and it helps me have motivation for God and not for myself,” Le says.
And it is that faith that continues to drive him, not just as a swimmer, but also as a young man growing into adulthood. A man with a clear vision of where he’s going, whether it’s his muscles driving him through the water as he competes at the highest levels of swimming or his heart driving him to a more profound experience with Christ.
“I’m trying not to put too much confidence in myself,” says Le, “Be the best you can be, but be better for God. Go deeper and help guide people to him.”
It’s a faith that guides him as he prepares to swim the biggest race of his young life on Friday morning.
“I don’t really feel all that much pressure,” Le said by phone on Thursday night, “I’m pretty much considered a long shot, so I don’t have anywhere to go but up.”
Up. An appropriate description of the trail Paul Le is following.
Olympic glory? Perhaps.
Something a bit more eternal? Certainly.