Gollnick shares testimony of finding strength to raise premature twins by training for triathlons
Liberty University fourth-year men’s and women’s triathlon Head Coach Heather Gollnick, a five-time Iron Man Triathlon champion, and her husband, Assistant Coach Todd Gollnick, experienced dramatic life changes after having twins born prematurely, 24½ weeks into the pregnancy.
“They were so small, … (doctors) gave them less than a 10-percent chance to survive,” Heather Gollnick said on last week’s edition of Flames Central.
Now they are both students at Liberty — with Josh a senior set to graduate in May and Jordan a graduate student working toward a master’s degree in women’s leadership — along with their younger brother, Zachary, a junior studying to be a youth pastor.
“I call them my miracles, but they’re both fighters,” Heather Gollnick said. “Jordan’s had 13 surgeries; Josh had six surgeries. Jordan had some really serious surgeries. They didn’t know if she’d pull through. She suffers cerebral palsy because of everything she went through. The doctors told her she’d never walk, and she’d be in a wheelchair forever. She’s just a fighter.”
She served as her babies’ primary caregiver, a calling she didn’t feel equipped for but learned along the way.
“It was really hard,” Gollnick said. “The Lord blessed me with a positive attitude. We could have been sad and depressed, or we could be optimistic. So, we chose to be optimistic, and that’s really helped me in my life with whatever we go through.”
A competitive gymnast through high school, Gollnick found running, cycling, and swimming as the ultimate stress relievers. As her twins overcame tremendous health challenges growing up, Gollnick has, too, through the sport of triathlon, which she discovered in her motherhood.
“When the nurses came over, I would take a break,” Gollnick said. “I think always being an athlete, I’ve dealt with my stress and my emotions by getting out by myself and having time with the Lord. I go out for a two-hour bike ride and am just singing Christian songs and praying.”
She won her first Ironman — an ultradistance triathlon starting with a 2.4-mile swim, continuing with a 112-mile cycling stage, and concluding with a 26.2-mile run — after nearly abandoning the race at the start of the marathon.
“In my head, I was like, ‘OK, where can I pull out of this race where nobody will see me, and I’ll just walk off and no one will know that I quit?’” Gollnick said. “Literally 200 feet after that thought, I see Jordan in her wheelchair and she’s screaming, ‘Go Mom! Go Mom!’
“I felt like the Lord was saying, ‘This little girl would give anything to walk an Ironman, so you keep going,’” she added. “So I kept going, I tried to run again, and I felt amazing all of a sudden, and I was like, ‘OK, thank you, Jesus.’ I ended up passing everyone that had passed me when I was walking, and I ended up winning.”
Winning races — she has now won more than 200 multisport events — gave her a platform to share her testimony.
“When you win, you have the opportunity to praise the Lord, and I got to share my story of who I was and why I was doing it,” Gollnick said. “I really felt like this is why God wants me to do this, so I can shed light on Him and what He’s done, and I hope that I am setting an example and inspiring other people.”
>> Flames Central video produced by Rett McGibbon; Watch the most recent episode of the Liberty-focused sports show streamed weekly on its website.