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The Strength to Persevere
The following feature was originally published in the Oct. 4 issue of Flames Illustrated, which was sold the same day Jacy Christiansen won her first collegiate cross country race at the Greater Louisville Classic. Christiansen and the Lady Flames will return to action on Oct. 18 at the ISU Pre-National Invitational.
A well-known Bible passage in the book of Hebrews encourages Christians to "run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus," and by doing so "you will not grow weary and lose heart."
Liberty senior distance runner Jacy Christiansen has every reason to feel weary – she's been running in races since she was three years old. However, it's her faith in Christ that has helped the 21-year old persevere in her 18-year running career.
"There have been several points in my life, at age 13 and again at 17, where I didn't think I could do this any longer just because my body kept breaking down physically," Christiansen recalled. "My faith is the reason I'm still running and it's where I get my strength. I keep thinking I've hit a ceiling, but God keeps allowing me to go further and faster."
While the memories of childhood races are faint, Christiansen recounts running alongside her father Joshua, who provided a hedge of protection for his youngest child. Growing up in a family of runners, Christiansen benefited from being able to take up the family tradition at a younger age than any of her six older siblings. At age five, she competed in a 5K race, finishing with a time of 23:39, a clocking that remains the U.S. record for five-year old runners today.
Christiansen doesn't dwell on her national record these days, nor does she think about what personal gains she could garner from the sport. The senior recalls an important conversation she once had with her older brother Jed, a marathon runner who once competed in the U.S. Olympic Trials.
"I was talking to [Jed] about how to get money for running after college and if it was something I could do as a career," she said. "He encouraged me to not be running for the money and that it should never really be about that. It would be nice if you can make a living off it, but that should never be your main focus."
Focus is a word that teammates and coaches alike use when describing Christiansen's training regimen and race day performance. Redshirt junior Caroline Parris, who referred to Christiansen as "intentional," said her teammate doesn't rely solely on her own abilities to generate success.
"She puts her race and her running in God's hands," Parris noted. "It's not up to her. She does it as an act of worship. Maybe there's something she's fearful of or some type of training that she's tasked with, but she always says ‘God I trust you and I trust your plan.' I think that's something that's been very important and helped her be so successful here."
"She's one of the most competitive athletes I've coached and that really comes out in workouts and races." assistant coach Rebekah Ricksecker added. "She's very good at rising to the occasion to help her teammates and the school. She knows when a race is important and she's able to kick it into that next gear when it really counts. She's also very good at blocking out pain in an important moment."
One of those important moments Ricksecker speaks of occurred during the 2013 Big South Outdoor Track & Field Championship 5K at Liberty's Matthes-Hopkins Track Complex on April 20, 2013. After already competing in the 1,500 prelims the day before and the finals three hours prior to the 5K, Christiansen had to muster whatever strength she had left in order to score points for the team. The pressure was on, as her outcome would likely determine whether or not the Lady Flames won the meet.
"I was having intense stomach pain and I didn't think I could even start the race," she said. "I remember doing strides before the 5K and thinking ‘God I need you to get me through this.'"
Christiansen started off the race at the back of the pack, but a strength much greater than her own allowed her to persevere, as she steadily ran down competitors in front of her. In the race's final stretch, she courageously sprinted past one last runner to grab a third-place finish with a season-best time of 17:26.20, clinching the title for the Lady Flames.
"I think races like that are the greatest testimonies because I didn't have any strength at all," Christiansen stated. "I didn't have any gas in the tank. It really showed that God was pouring into my life at that time."
This year, Christiansen returned to the Big South Outdoor Championships with her sights set on capturing the 5K title. Instructed by Ricksecker and head coach Brant Tolsma to hang with the lead runner and kick hard at the end, Christiansen knew that the strategy greatly challenged her competitive nature.
"That race was a test of my patience," Christiansen said. "[The strategy] was something I had to submit to in my heart. The whole race I felt really good and I had never felt God's power in a race the way I did that day."
Parris remembers the race from her vantage point as a competitor on that rainy day in Rock Hill, S.C.
"I was on the back stretch and I could see her finish from a distance," Parris said. "It was amazing. Throughout the race I would hear our teammates in the bleachers. It was pouring rain and everything. It was really crazy weather. They were freaking out and I knew she was really going for it."
Christiansen not only went for it, she achieved it – winning the race with her trademark burst of speed to capture her second individual Big South title.
"I'd say there was something supernatural about [the kick to win the race]," Christiansen. "It wasn't me."
Heading into her final cross country, indoor and outdoor track & field seasons, Christiansen hopes to reach her goal of going to the NCAA national championships in her senior year.
"That's been at the forefront of my mind my whole college career," she stated. "I'm getting a little closer, but it's still a little bit away."
"I think Jacy is talented enough to make it to nationals," Ricksecker noted. "The question is will she have the right race on the right day. You can't really know until you run the race."
Whether Christiansen reaches her goal before the final lap of her collegiate career is over remains to be seen. Even if doing so is not meant to be, it is unlikely she will lose heart or stop running with perseverance.
by Eric Brown, Assistant Athletics Communications Director for Liberty University