Barcelona Olympics, 1992. It was the semi-finals of the men’s 400 metre race. The top four athletes would qualify for the finals. In lane 5, was Derek Redmond, who had posted the fastest timings in the first round of heats. He was the reigning British champion and was expected to breeze through into the finals. Off went the start-gun!
Things went as planned for Derek at the start of the race but just as he crossed 250 metres, the most unexpected happened. He collapsed to the ground with an agonising pain in his right leg; his hamstring was torn. He later described the pain as, “someone shoving a hot knife into the back of your knee and twisting it.” While other athletes were racing towards the finish line, Derek was on the ground with one hand holding his leg and the other hiding his tears. He was in real pain - both physical and emotional. Despite his eight surgeries over four years, Derek had trained intensely for this race. Now it was all over.
Even in the pain, Redmond was resolved to finish the race. He refused to take help of the paramedics and was focused on reaching the finish line. He got up and limped along the track. What happened next is etched in history, often described as one of the most emotional moments of the Olympics. While the cameras were still on Derek, there was someone desperately trying to reach him through the security. It was Jim Redmond, Derek’s father.
When Jim saw that Derek, ignoring the agony, was determined to finish the race, he said, "We started this thing together and now we’ll finish it together." Jim, who had supported Derek’s dream of sports since he was seven, was now helping his son finish probably his last race. All along, Derek cried like a little child with his arms clinging on his father's shoulder. The father and son walked to the finish line amidst a standing ovation from over 65,000 spectators.
This story is about an athlete’s spirit of perseverance but more than that it is about the love of a father. No one else would have come down to the track, break the security protocols, put arms around Derek and walk him to the finish line, no one but a father. Jim could not stand merely as a spectator and see his son limp on helplessly. His love simply would not allow him to wait!
This incident gives us a glimpse of what God did for us through Jesus. The Bible is the story of how God stepped into our world to redeem us - worn-out and helpless sinners. The Bible says, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9). God in his infinite majesty, glory and holiness could have chosen to watch from the sidelines, but he did not. Instead he chose to descend, be born as a human, be one among us and share our pain and shame. On that Christmas night, it was God stepping into the human race.
Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). He is the only one who lived a sinless life and finished the race of life well. He is our only hope to finish well. We do not have it within us to live a life pleasing to God but through Jesus, we can make it across the finish line.
As we run this race of life, we may fall, we may feel weak, we may be crushed and broken and feel that all is lost, but let us hold on to what Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). God is not a spectator who cheers us from afar but he is our Father whose eternal loving hands will carry us through this life and into the life to come.