Heading into the 2018 women’s cross-country NAIA national championships last week, Taylor University — a Christian school in Upland, Ind. — liked its chances. The women had been running well all season, and were consistently ranked as one of the top teams in the country.
As the team arrived in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for the meet, the runners prepared just as they normally would, taking an easy run around the course the day before a meet. But just a few hundred meters into the training run, Taylor’s top runner, sophomore Sarah Harden, began to feel lightheaded and dizzy. Her pace began to slow, which caused her teammates to take notice. Then they began passing her.
Senior Mae Elizabeth Gimre stopped to turn around, and noticed Harden just standing in the middle of the course, staring off in the distance. Then Gimre saw Harden’s facial expression turn terrified. Harden began to lose her balance and stumble backward — and then she fell. Gimre raced to her side.
Harden was having a seizure.
Other teammates ran over to see what was happening, but Gimre told them to run and get help. As a summer lifeguard, Gimre had learned how to care for someone having a seizure, so she stayed with Harden. Soon thereafter, runners from another team who were also registered nurses came to Harden’s aid before paramedics could arrive.
As Harden was taken by ambulance to the hospital, Gimre returned to her teammates. The whole team immediately embraced and began praying for Harden.
After running some tests and giving Harden anti-seizure medicine, doctors told Taylor coach Quinn White that Harden was free to go. The doctors never said she couldn’t race in the nationals meet the next day, but Coach White was not planning on putting his best runner out there.
However, Harden was insistent on running. It wasn’t until a phone call with Harden’s father that the coach changed his mind.
“He said, ‘Quinn, her racing tomorrow is not about Taylor University trying to win a national title,'” recalled White in a video by Taylor Athletics. “‘It’s not about Sarah Harden trying to be an All-American. It’s about Sarah Harden’s mental state and being able to move on, to move forward, to live life without fear.'”
White spoke with the school’s athletic director and team doctor, and they all agreed to leave it up to Harden. Of course, she wanted to run.
That night, during the team’s standard night-before meeting during which devotionals are also shared, Gimre spoke to the team. Her devotional centered on Colossians 1:11-12:
“… being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of His holy people in the kingdom of light.”
Harden said she relied on God’s power during the race the next day. She ran with the front pack for the majority of the race, and finished as Taylor’s top runner. Her 5K time of 17:46.5 was the fastest individual time in Taylor history, and her 10th-place overall finish earned her All-American honors for the second time in her career.
As a team, the Trojans placed third — their best nationals performance ever. Their combined time of 90:29 marks the fastest in program history.
“I did not know the exact place that we got (initially), but I knew that we ran the best that we could run that day. With the situation or without the situation, we ran fantastic,” White said.
White often talks with his team about praising God through running. They often talk about how running is a gift from Him. It was never more evident than at nationals.
“To go out and run as strong as they ran, run as fast as they ran, and to run leaning on Him more than they ever have, it’s like, ‘This story has got to be told,'” White said. “Because this wasn’t them, this wasn’t me, this was our Lord and Savior giving these girls the right mindset, giving them the strength, and giving them the opportunity to go out and use the gift that He’s given them.”
“I’ve just seen how He’s at work in the good situations and the bad, and I’ve seen His providence,” Harden said. “Looking to the future, I don’t know what’s going to happen, if I’m going to have another seizure; anything could happen. But I’m not really scared because I know that He’s been faithful — so obviously, clearly faithful — throughout my life so far, I have no reason to doubt that He’s going to continue to be faithful through the rest of it.”
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