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Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone Shares Greatest Hurdle

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She’s the world’s fastest 400 Meter hurdler and a two-time Olympic gold-medalist. In 2016, at only sixteen-years old, Sydney Mclaughlin-Levrone became the youngest person in nearly 40 years, to make the women’s Olympic track team.

Will Dawson: "When did you know that you were, not just good, but maybe even great?"

Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone: "I started running when I was six, and I think it's kind of hard to tell when you're that young. You know, you're just running for the fun of wanting to run. But I think it wasn't until I got to high school coming into now freshman year, my first race was an indoor 300. And I actually won the race against some seniors. And I think that's when it kind of hit me that, “Wow! Maybe I can actually, you know, hang with these girls!”

She did more than hang with them. Sydney quickly became the best hurdler in the country, qualifying for the 2016 Olympic games in Rio. In spite of all the accolades and success, Sydney was struggling.

Dawson: "From an early age as a runner, anxiety and fear plagued you. Where did that come from?"

McLaughlin-Levrone: "I think anxiety and fear, for me, it kind of just came from my desire to want to be perfect in all things. And the reality is that nobody can do that. And I think for me, that was a constant battle internally of, 'how do I get as close to perfect as possible in a world where you can't control your circumstances or what happens to you all the time?' For me, it constantly left me in a state of fear. And especially on the track, racing against other people who are as good, if not better. That was a constant battle of, 'am I enough? Will I ever be enough, or will I ever measure up to the standard that I have for myself and that other people have for me?'”

Sydney did not medal at the Olympic games in Rio and returned home for her senior year of high school. The reception wasn’t what she expected.

“I remember receiving messages on Instagram and people saying stuff like, ‘You made it all the way to the Olympics not to get a medal,’ but I just knew from that point on I was like, ‘I need to figure out how to deal with this fear because I can't keep living like this.'"

Her next big hurdle was qualifying for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. In 2019, she competed in the world championships in Doha, Qatar. For Sydney, anything short of 1st place would be unacceptable. As a perfectionist, her 2nd place finish, was heartbreaking.

“Being able to make it all the way there on the world stage and still come up short, I think was just devastating for me. I still couldn't understand what all the fear was, all the anxiety, how to handle it . . .”

Sydney grew up in a Christian home, though she never fully trusted God. The loss and growing anxiety forced her to cry out to him. “'God, I need you. There’s no way I'm going to heal from all of this unless it's with you.’ And so during COVID, that was when I truly started seeking Him. He was very gracious during that time to reveal Himself to me. And it was reading Colossians 3 that flipped a switch for me in terms of my thinking and just kind of how I saw everything. It just made the whole gospel make sense and I can't tell you what it was about it, but the lens in which I viewed life had truly switched and understanding like that in and of myself. I have nothing to offer God, but it is just the righteousness of Jesus covering my life based upon my faith that is presentable before Him.”

Though Sydney had come up short in the world championships, she had still qualified for the 2020 games in Tokyo. While there, with a new focus on God, she set a new world record, taking home gold in the 4 x 400 relay and the 400 meter hurdles.

Dawson: "When you crossed the finish line, what were the emotions?"

McLaughlin-Levrone: "Relief, praise, thankfulness, excitement, disbelief, all those different things at once. But truly, just like, 'Thank you God, for hearing my prayers and answering them and just being being kind to me.' I think that's the number one thing. Every time I cross the line is like, 'God, you have not failed me. Even when I lose, I still win because I learn and You still prune me and guide me and sustain me.' And yeah, the girl who once used to cross the line and still feel empty inside, I now have joy, even in the midst of any circumstance."

Today Sydney is training for this year’s Olympic games in Paris. Win or lose, she has a new purpose. In her new book, Far Beyond Gold, Sydney discusses her battle with anxiety, fear, and letting go of her striving for perfection, and simply running the race set before her.

“Just knowing that I'm running with that purpose of achieving the goal and the goal is not gold medals like the book says, it's 'far beyond gold.’ It's achieving salvation, which is already mine in Jesus, but obviously running the race of the Christian life well."

And even on the track before races, that's what I'm reminding myself of, is setting my mind on the things above, knowing that the Lord is looking down on my life right now and me wanting to honor Him, and He is glorified in that. And so, it just became a joyful way of experiencing life and living life and it was way better than I was thinking before.”

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Will Dawson is a Senior Producer for The 700 Club.