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Baptist diver set for final Olympic event
Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press
August 21, 2008

Baptist diver set for final Olympic event

Baptist diver set for final Olympic event
Tim Ellsworth, Baptist Press
August 21, 2008

Photo by Peter Bick/AfterImage Photos

“Jumping off the platform is a lot like taking a step

of faith,” U.S. Olympic diver Laura Wilkinson

says. “It’s really trusting God, even during

something scary.”

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Laura Wilkinson may have to fight back tears

when she steps onto the diving platform for the final time during the

Beijing Olympics.

“It’s kind of bittersweet,” Wilkinson said.

“It’s my third Olympics, but it’s also going to be my last Olympics.

It’s kind of a farewell at the same time. I get really excited but

really emotional about it a lot.”

Wilkinson, who won a gold

medal in Sydney in 2000 and finished fifth in Athens in 2004, will

begin her competition in the women’s 10-meter platform event on

Wednesday.

It won’t be the first time that Wilkinson has gotten

emotional on the platform. Ten years ago, during the 1998 Goodwill

Games, she had an experience during her competition that changed her

life. But first, some stage-setting is necessary.

Wilkinson

became a Christian when she was 8 and “really got into church and God’s

Word and was really excited about it,” she said.

That lasted

until her freshman year of high school. That’s when she began noticing

some people from her church youth group acting one way at church and a

different way outside of church. Such hypocrisy made her uncomfortable,

and Wilkinson slowly stopped going to church altogether. She became

just like those people, she admits.

In her sophomore year in

college, she hit the bottom. Her grades started falling. She was mired

in sinful attitudes and behaviors. She was miserable, but her diving

was going well.

“Diving was the only stable thing I had in my

life,” Wilkinson said. “As long as I have diving,” she thought. “I’m

going to be fine.”

But then her grip on the sport began to

weaken. During her dives, she started to get disoriented in the air.

Rather than fulfilling her, diving began to frighten her.

That’s where the 1998 Goodwill Games come in.

“I

didn’t think I was going to survive the meet,” Wilkinson said. “I was

so disoriented, and I was terrified. I realized in the middle of that

meet that I’d taken control of things and everything was slipping

through my fingers. I had just made a mess of stuff.”

Wilkinson knew that she needed to recommit her life to the Lord.

“He’s got plans for me,” she thought. “He knows better than me.”

So

while standing on the platform before one of her dives, Wilkinson

surrendered her life once again to God. Strangely enough, she ended up

winning that meet.

“I realized it really wasn’t me,” she said.

“It was all God. It wasn’t God saying, ‘I’m going to have you win every

meet.’ It was God saying, ‘Look what happens when you put your life in

my hands. I have a plan for you. I have a future for you.'”

Her life hasn’t been the same since. Now she knows why she’s diving, and her life has purpose.

“I’m

focusing on God,” Wilkinson said. “He gave me this talent, and I want

to worship Him with it and glorify Him with it. I know I don’t have to

win to do that. Whatever place I come in, He’s going to be glorified

through that if I honor Him. I want to be a graceful winner and I want

to be a graceful loser.”

Wilkinson and her husband Eriek

Hulseman live in The Woodlands, Texas, and are active members of

Champion Forest Baptist Church in Houston. David Upchurch, minister to

young married adults at the church, said Wilkinson is practically a

celebrity there.

“People know who she is,” Upchurch said. “I

would say she’s larger than life, but that’s not the first thing that

comes across when you meet her. She’s a real person, very humble about

all of that stuff.”

Whatever the outcome of the Beijing

Olympics, Wilkinson, 30, knows that her days as a competitive diver are

nearing an end. After the Olympics she intends to be more involved in

the Laura Wilkinson Foundation, raising money to build a new facility

for her diving team. She and her husband also want to have children.

But

even though diving may not play such a prominent role in her life in

the future, Wilkinson is thankful for the way in which the sport has

taught her about God.

“Jumping off the platform is a lot like

taking a step of faith,” she said. “It’s really trusting God, even

during something scary. Diving itself has been a great learning tool

for me to help me understand God’s Word.”