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Olympic Runner Abbey Cooper (D’Agostino): Beautiful Moments from Devastating Falls

by | Jun 5, 2019 | Building Identity, Overcoming Injury, podcast, Season 1, World-class Women | 1 comment

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About This Episode

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Despite her years in the pool as a swimmer, it was destiny for Abbey to become a runner. Both of her parents were avid marathoners and her mother a triathlete, but it took until high school for Abbey to muster the courage to lace up with them. She joined the cross country team as a freshman in high school mainly because all students were welcome and she didn’t have to brave a tryout. The first day she recalls being so nervous that she could hardly get out of the car. But she was quickly welcomed into a jovial, family atmosphere among the girls on the team and her first two years she experienced one success after another. Unfortunately her final two years were marked by several coaching changes and health issues, but her love of running persisted and she was recruited to run for Dartmouth. She looked forward to working with an entire team of woman who were equally invested in their sport and their studies and came into her first year just hoping to add some points to the team. She never anticipated having the incredible season that she did, which culminated with her qualification for nationals. Empowered her to see her own potential as an athlete, Abbey began dreaming a bit bigger.

The support of her parents, her collegiate coach, and her faith community gave her the resources in every area of her life to flourish. She invested in a faith community through the Fellowship of Christian Athletes which allowed her to develop her sense of identity and purpose outside of her splits and standings. Her coach, a former Olympian himself, reinforced the narrative that they had the potential to achieve more that what they considered possible and Abbey rose to the challenge. In 2012 after her sophomore year, she qualified for the Olympic Trials and says that it was, “like the icing on the cake at the end of the season.” Her underdog status gave her the ability to relax and just enjoy the experience – a posture that she credits with her impressive performance. She qualified for the finals and took fifth place, less than one second away from qualifying for the Games. Even though she was disappointed that she narrowly missed those Olympics, running better than she could have ever hoped gave her a confidence boost and renewed vision for her next few years. “I set my mind on taking it one year at a time and enjoying the rest of my collegiate experience and then going on from there,” says Abbey.

She graduated from Dartmouth in 2014 as the most decorated Ivy League runner in history and with seven NCAA titles to her name. New Balance signed her to their team and she moved back to Boston near their headquarters and, conveniently, her family. But her first few years as a professional were not seamless. For the first time in her career she began to struggle with physical injuries. Stress fractures and muscle injuries plagued her which deeply refined her character as she dealt with her own frustration, anger, and perceived loss of control. Running had become an idol in her collegiate years and it was being repeatedly stripped away. “If running is my ultimate source of satisfaction and identity, then I won’t ever be satisfied,” says Abbey. The challenges recovery built in her a sense of humility about her abilities. Just weeks before the 2016 Olympic Trials she experienced a stress fracture in her shin that nearly removed her from competition. She placed fifth at the trials, but two woman who had finished ahead of her forfeited their spots in order to run the 10,000m race instead of the 5000m and Abbey was granted a spot. More than ever, she realized that her place on the team was truly a gift.

But in the weeks between the trials and the Games while recovering from her shin injury, she suffered a stress fracture in her pelvis. Not wanting to give up her spot, she soldiered on and was restricted to non-impact workouts in the pool only; she wasn’t allowed to run at all until her actual event. Her mental space was one of peaks and valley as she wrestled with her training limitations. She stepped up to the line of her preliminary run not confident in the status of her fitness, but determined to run a race of which we could be proud. As 5000m races typically go, the pack started at a conservative pace, but picked up speed abruptly around the 3000m mark. This sudden pace change caused a collision in front of her tripping New Zeeland runner Nikki Hamblin who caught Abbey’s foot under her as she fell. Both women ended up in a pile on the ground, but rather than continue on with her race Abbey made the split second decision to run backwards towards Nikki to encourage her to get up and finish. The two woman proceeded together, despite the fact that Abbey was visibly injured. She would later learn that this fall had torn her ACL and meniscus, an injury that she is still recovering from today. The woman embraced at the finish line and video footage of the event immediately went viral. Abbey had absolutely no idea that anyone would see what happened on the track that day, as preliminary races harder garner any attention, but her sense of sportsmanship and unity was praised as “The Most Beautiful Moment” of the Olympics. Around the world her actions were applauded, but she says, “I was just thankful to be an instrument in the larger story that the Lord was telling.”

Earlier in the week before that race she had heard a story from Olympic chaplain and former distance runner, Madeline Manning. Madeline shared about a time that she got hurt during a race and instinctually prayed for help to finish. She doesn’t remember the last 100m of the race, but knows that God carried her through the end. Madeline shared a verse from Ephesians with the athletes present at her session and Abbey held on to that story and even had the verse written on her hand during that preliminary race. When she fell, she instantly thought of Madeline, thought of that verse, and without hesitation went back to her competitor because it was the right thing to do. The media attention and publicity was overwhelming for both woman, but has been an incredible part of Abbey’s story and has given her a platform to share about her faith and the values that she believes to be at the core of the Olympics.

The past two years Abbey has been working to regain her strength, balance, and stamina after undergoing surgery to repair the damage done by that fall. At times she still faces frustration at the pace of recovery, but is confident that she will work her way back to Olympic standard in time for the 2020 Olympic Trials even if it’s not how she envisions the journey. “God can take our dreams and reroute them for His glory and our ultimate benefit,” says Abbey. To younger athletes she shares this advice: “Be sure that you’re cultivating joy in your pursuit.” Sport needs to remain fun, a passion, and with the richness that comes from knowing worth and purpose. She advises athletes to not try to do too much too soon, saying, “so much of success if just layers of consistency.” Through it all, she can testify to the fact that challenges will inevitably come, “so the earlier you can start finding your identity in the right things, the better.” Abbey is on her way to the trials for the 2020 Summer Olympics, so be sure to follow her recovery on Instagram,  Twitter , and Facebook so you can cheer her on.

Read Episode Transcript

Laura:

[00:00:06] Welcome to the Hope Sports Podcast where we believe sport can give you the freedom to be your best. All too often the fear of failure takes the fun out of the game. We’re here to help you discover the real joy and freedom to compete for your best. I’m your host Olympic gold medalist Laura Wilkinson. I can’t wait to jump into today’s conversation. But before I do I want to tell you about a really cool way that people are engaging with this podcast. We’re giving a big old shout out to Courtney Spencer’s 7th-grade writing class at maybe Junior High in Texas. Courtney found the Hope Sports Podcast and created an entire project around it. Her students have been listening to different episodes and then writing the athletes from those episodes they listened to with what they learned. And we are loving it. You guys are amazing. Keep believing in your dreams and pursuing purpose and you guys are bound to change the world. Speaking of believing in your dreams we have such an inspiring guest on today. Abbey D’Agostino Cooper is the most decorated Ivy League track and distance runner. She has seven Institute titles and runs professionally with Team New Balance. But she is most well-known perhaps for what was named the most beautiful moment of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. In the preliminary race of the 5000 meters. Abby was tripped up when another runner fell in front of her. But instead of continuing on she went back to pick up the other woman to finish the race. Her actions are the epitome of sportsmanship and they represent the heart of the Olympics. And today on the show she shares the story behind that moment. She shares her less than the perfect run-up to the Olympic Games and her own struggle to recover from an injury. And through it all she shines this incredible humility that I’m so excited to share with you. So let’s dive on in.

 

[00:01:53] Abby Cooper, welcome to the Hope Sports Podcast. It is such an honor to have you here with us today.

 

Abbey:

[00:01:58] Thank you, Laura. It’s an honor to be here.

 

Laura:

[00:02:01] OK. Well, let’s just kind of start with what made you fall in love with running? Kind of take us there.

 

Abbey:

[00:02:07] I have kind of in the background where I didn’t start off running when I was like three years old if there’s anything like that. I grew up in a family of runners both my mom and dad. I was growing up when marathons and my mom was actually a triathlete as well. So I was raised in an after just kind of exercise enthusiast environment. I was actually a swimmer growing up. I swam competitively through 8th grade. And when freshman year in high school rolled around. Honestly, the reason I first went to cross-country practice was because that was the only sport that I didn’t have to try out for. And I had never been to a sport with individuals who were so much older than me. And I think I know that I was a bit intimidated by that. So I didn’t even want to get out of the car the first day of practice. But very quickly found that it was such a welcoming and jovial group of girls. And quite a big team actually too. So it felt like a family and I learned pretty early on that I had a natural talent for it. So yeah just worked out.

 

Laura:

[00:03:22] Oh that’s so cool. I love it. Was there a specific moment do you think in or out of the competition that kind of changed the trajectory of your running career?

 

Abbey:

[00:03:31] Well, I think there was probably a series of those in the time that I’ve been running. My first couple of years in high school I had quite a bit of success. Those first two years where I actually ran my best times. My sophomore year in high school and had continuous coaches in those first two years. And then after I think it was between my sophomore and junior year in high school. We started having quite a few coaching changes even within seasons. And I started to struggle with some health problems of mono and anemia. So running wasn’t going quite as well for me those last two years. And you know school was getting harder. So although I was still an active participant in team captain and still involved very involved with the team. My love of it started to just become a bit more. There were ebbs and flows I think and how enjoyable it was. Then again I think that now as I look back it was a blessing in disguise because it really set my heart on competing in college. And looking forward to this new start where I was going to be around a whole team of people who were equally as invested in the sport and in their academics.

 

[00:05:12] I love my high school team but there weren’t many of us who were looking to compete at a more serious level. Yeah, really my first two years of college were just exploring what it was like to buy into this mentality. As you know running is not just an extracurricular activity but actually a lifestyle what does that look like on a day to day basis. So that really changed my trajectory in that I was able to more fully realize my potential over the course of those first two years. I was actually quite surprised by the jumps I was able to make in my performance. As well as the love of the sport where I’d never imagined at all. My goal entering freshman year was to just contribute to the team and be able to score points. So when I qualified for a national championship and then was able to go on after that. That was not anything that I expected. So I haven’t been pretty quickly.

 

[00:06:25] Just over the course of those 4 years that’s when I grew to realize that I was capable of competing on an even grander scale and look toward professional running. So I’m really thankful for my coaching. And the support system around me that embedded that allowed me the resources to realize that and grow in such deep ways.

 

Laura:

[00:06:55] So who was that support system like was it just a coach? Was it the whole team? Was it one person in particular? Like who really kind of helped to grow and change? And like you said really make that your lifestyle.

 

Abbey:

[00:07:08] Right. So yeah. It was a collection of amazing people. And of course, my family was behind me the entire time really. In allowing me to choose the school where there are no athletic scholarships at Ivy League schools. So you know that was a huge sacrifice on their part. It started there. And then I was actually recruited by a different coach than my collegiate coach Mark Coogan. And the other coach had gotten pregnant and resigned the summer before we arrived on campus. But then found out that Mark had an incredible experience and background being an Olympian himself. And he was really a great fit for our team at the time. And helped us learn how to ask more of ourselves and believe we had the potential to be a national caliber team. So he again was hugely instrumental. I had no idea what it looked like from a physical standpoint from a psychological standpoint emotional to compete at that level. So he planted the seeds. And he was also a perfect balance personality wise where I’m by nature a type A personality and he’s a validly type B. And so where I tend to overdo it he was always there to balance me out. And help me to remember the joy of it when I started to get a little bit too dialed in and just self-destructive way.

 

[00:08:59] And then aside from my incredible teammates who are still some of my best friends to this day. I think one other huge component of my support system in college was the faith community. In college was where I came to faith. There were a lot of outlets you know Christian groups on campus. But the one I was most connected to was called FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) which I’m sure many listeners are familiar with it. But yeah I had great discipleship and mentorship through that program. And really just learned what a personal relationship with Jesus could be. You know in part through my experiences but then also the way I was drawn to the people in that community. So yeah.

 

Laura:

[00:09:55] It’s interesting that you said you came to faith there and through Fellowship of Christian Athletes. But why did you start going if you didn’t already have that faith. Like what brought you there?

 

Abbey:

[00:10:06] That’s a great question. So I did grow up in the church. I was raised in a Catholic home. And you know like we were regular churchgoers and I attended CCD. And I had a very much intellectual understanding of who God was. And as a first born as a natural perfectionist I kind of understood God as prescribing a set of rules that I had to follow. And I was always good at following rules. So it really was kind of a work based understanding there. And then you know when I started to struggle in high school with my health and running wasn’t going as well and school was harder. It just became less intriguing to me. Because if I’m not reaching that standard that God is supposedly setting. Of course, I’m going to run the other way if I don’t know who he is. And so I didn’t really at the time. So entering college I had a few teammates actually which is amazing to think back of such a small team. I had multiple teammates who were believers and were regular members of FCA. And would invite me to their Bible studies and larger group gatherings.

 

[00:11:31] I’d gone not on a regular basis but again I was enticed by the people there. The message that I heard. And yeah. I just sense that it was real for those involved. And it wasn’t until I started to experience the pressure that came with the success I was experiencing in running and in school. And the sense of internal emptiness that I felt. It wasn’t until then that I really started to seek help from that. All that I had heard who Jesus was and the freedom that he provided. So that’s really what it started to become personal.

 

Laura:

[00:12:22] Oh That’s awesome. I love it. And you did have a very successful collegiate career. You were the most decorated Ivy League track and cross-country runner. You won 7 NCAA titles. That’s insane. So where did your pursuit of the Olympics begin and all of this?

 

Abbey:

[00:12:39] So in 2012, of course, that was an Olympic year. I had just finished my sophomore year in college. And another teammate of mine Alexi Pappas she was senior that year and she had also she and I both qualified for the Olympic Trials in Eugene. And she in the steeplechase and I’d qualified in the 5000. So we really just went to that race. You know as I said we were done with our academics. I was living on campus at Dartmouth that summer. So we just enjoyed that as kind of an opportunity as the coach would call it icing on the cake at the end of our season. He had spoken of course so fondly of his experiences in college at the Olympics. But then in college at the Olympic trials. And how much of a benefit it was to be an underdog in that environment. And so we both were able to compete there. And I very honestly had I mean again I told you I was at times by what I was able to accomplish in college.

 

[00:13:58] But I think that experience at 22 miles trumps all. In terms of just being so shocked but I able to handle that type of competition. So yeah. It took me to really process. For those who don’t know, I qualify for their trials and finals. I qualified for the final. So I was about less than a second shy of qualifying for the Olympics that year.

 

Laura:

[00:14:37] So heartbreaking.

 

Abbey:

[00:14:39] So yeah. Honest. I really didn’t know it was. But I really felt like emotionally I’d gone from zero to 100. I wasn’t mentally prepared to be in that place at all or even close. So it took me a while to digest that experience, recognize, and feel thankful. This was introducing me to this potential that I didn’t realize was there and so. Yeah. I mean I was very content and satisfied with my experience in college. And I wanted to though I knew within my heart I wanted to do anything I could to be there in 2016. I really set my mind up taking it one year at a time and enjoying the rest of my collegiate experience and then going on from there.

 

Laura:

[00:15:37] Smart. So you said going into 2012. I mean kind of like you said you weren’t really sure what to expect there. So I mean were you actually happy with the result or were you still upset? I just hear a second often it sounds heartbreaking to me but like wasn’t in your headspace. I mean maybe that was really exciting. And Dan Jansen telling us that he got 4th in the Olympics his first Olympics. And he was stoked like he thought he did great and everybody is like oh that’s a shame he didn’t win a medal but he was excited about his performance. So yeah. I guess I should have asked you what exactly was your headspace going in there?

 

Abbey:

[00:16:09] Yeah. I mean really? Like I remember I kept actually a pretty religious journal of kind of the happenings. And you know because we had been out in Eugene ten days before the race so we’re able to experience the vibe of the Olympic trials. And I remember actually writing that the goal was really just to make the final. And I actually ended up winning the prelim. So it’s not that you know with a prelim I was just like I was so stunned but by how relaxed I felt. I think just because the stakes for me were so low and it was actually really beneficial evaluation tool. For me to see Oh I actually perform well. When you know you hear about as an athlete like the optimal arousal for competition. And then I walked away from that experience realizing that I actually perform better when I’m a bit more relaxed versus hyped. So yeah to answer your question the goal was just to make the final. So then when I was able to do that and then come so close.

 

[00:17:26] I think the best word is just surprised. You’ll see if I were to rewatch an interview you know I’m crying in the interview of course. I think that was more just this like paralysis. It’s hard to say I was disappointed. Because I truly believe that the Lord’s will was not for me to be there that year and for three other amazing athletes to be there. But as I grow older and more mature in my career I recognize just how few and far between those opportunities are. And so it is challenging not to look back and feel a sort of sting from that.

 

Laura:

[00:18:13] So interesting how the perspective changes. I totally get it. I totally get it. Well, so what changed you when you finished college and you started running professionally and aiming toward Rio 2016. So kind of take us on that journey.

 

Abbey:

[00:18:27] So when I graduated in 2014 I signed a contract with New Balance and was able to move to Boston which is right near where my family lives. And really just was such a seamless fit in terms of training environment. I was part of a newly developed team and the New Balance headquarters are in Boston. So it really seems to be almost too good to be true. And then pretty much right off the bat. You know later on that fall when I started training after the summer for the next season I started getting injured. You know it was like first a soft tissue injury and then a few months later I got my first serious stress bone injury. And then a team that every six months or less I was getting the same sort of thing in different areas. And in college I never had longer term serious injuries like that. So yeah that was new territory. It challenged me to say the least. And you know provided a right opportunity for God to reveal my heart to me.

 

[00:19:52] And just in the way that I would respond to the continuous cycle of those things happening. And the anger and bitterness that I had to wrestle with. And just revealing that just how powerful running can be as an idol in my life. It just kind of stripping away layers of control and comfort. And graciously showing me that you know if Running is my ultimate source of satisfaction than identity then I won’t be satisfied.

 

Laura:

[00:20:32] Oh such a good lesson.

 

Abbey:

[00:20:36] Right. And it was so humbling to go through it so many times and also realize my pride in that. Like I started to develop the sense of like I’ve been through this before you know. I feel like I’ve learned this lesson and God just showing me like when we struggle with some good thing that brings us joy. And then it’s taken from us and we have to kind of shift and replace you know remind ourselves where our true identity really lies in Christ. It takes a long time to at least for me I’m stubborn you know. I don’t want to speak for anyone else but it took a long time for me. I hesitate to even say to learn that lesson. I think it’s just gonna be a bunch of relearnings.

 

Laura:

[00:21:27] Yeah. Right there with that.

 

Abbey:

[00:21:30] Yeah yeah. So that was kind of the road to Rio in 2016 was just kind of like this total ebbs and flows of health and injury. Really up until you know 10 weeks before the Olympic trials I got another stress fracture in my shin. And it was the first time that I really felt like desperate before the Lord with the injury like I’m just tired. You know like I felt emotionally fatigued from all across training and thankful for that time because it taught me a lot about just relying on his word as manna. You know as like my food during that time. I’m just trusting that it would be there for me freshly every day. So getting to the starting line at the Olympic trials itself like the fact that I was able to get healthy. And with very limited training on the ground you know I was actually doing a lot of swimming. I was able to still get to the starting line. And then I actually didn’t even place top 3 in the 5000 I placed 5th. But then to the gals in front of me forfeited their spot. So I was able to sneak in fifth place.

 

Laura:

[00:22:51] Why would you forfeit a spot on the Olympic team.

 

Abbey:

[00:22:54] So two of the other women Molly huddle and Emily Infeld had also qualified in the 10000 meters. So they both decided they didn’t want to run the 5000 and that was essentially what allowed me to run in the games. So that was an enormous gift. I still think about you know the moment that Emily came over to me at Team processing and shared the news you know. Super super emotional.

 

Laura:

[00:23:24] So did you find out at trials or not until way later?

 

Abbey:

[00:23:29] I found out the same day as the race. It was just like 3 hours later or something like that.

 

Laura:

[00:23:37] Wow.

 

Abbey:

[00:23:40] Yes. So just getting a spot on the team felt like a gift in and of itself. And then there were 3-4 weeks I think from the trials to the games. And I got another stress fracture in my pelvis between that Tucker in that period of time. So you know in light of what happened in Rio. You know like I think it is really important to share actually this part of the story. Because you know what I always say is like everything that happened in Rio was a product and was made possible because of what God had done beforehand. To prepare me for that event and just giving me a season of trial. I was on crutches with the pelvis injury. I was told that I could still go and compete at the Games. But like I couldn’t not run until the week before I could just get on the track a couple of times just to make sure my hip wasn’t going to break during the race. So needless to say it was just like I was so thankful to be there. You know it’s like you can’t go wrong you’re an athlete village just kind of soaking it in. But internally it was challenging just not to be in the same routine. I had people asking what event I was swimming because I was out in the pool. God just continued this work that he was doing it in my heart to make me fully dependent on him through that time.

 

Laura:

[00:25:22] And I know because I’ve been through a lot of these seasons too. It’s hard sometimes to know that in the middle of it he’s actually equipping you for something. Did you recognize that? Or were you just frustrated like OK I thought I got it, you know. Like where were you walking into Rio in your head?

 

Abbey:

[00:25:40] Yeah. That’s a really great question. I would say it would depend on the moment. I felt that one of the things I noticed most you know I’m an avid journal. And I really value my devotional time in the morning. And I just like I would start off the day. So just incomplete enjoyment of devouring the word and because it was all I had. It was like it really spoke so deeply to my heart. It always does. But like in such a powerful way through that season. You know it took a start off the day feeling assured of why I was there. And that you know God had clearly just because of the way things had happened you know he clearly wanted to be in Rio for a reason. And I challenge myself to not stop looking for that reason and just be where I was and trust him with how it would unfold.

 

[00:26:43] So yeah there were there were peaks and valleys in terms of like feeling assured of why I was there. But then also you know by the end of the day this feeling discouraged and frustrated and honestly annoyed. You know it was just hard. Like a solo sessions in the pool you know that they have no translation to what you’re you know it really is so hard to tell where my fitness with that. So yeah there were ups and downs. Absolutely.

 

Laura:

[00:27:16] [00:27:16] At Hope sports we know that you want sport to be fun. But in order to do that you need to compete with freedom. The problem is you believe that everything hinges on your score performance or medal count. But we believe that athletes should be able to experience joy regardless of their win – loss record. Because sport is more about the process of who you’re becoming than the end result. We understand what it’s like when the pressure to perform exceeds the passion for the game. Which is why hundreds of athletes rediscovered their love for the game with hope sports. We have a workshop coming up November 15th through 17th in San Diego California. And you do not want to miss it. It’s so easy to get involved go to HopeSports.org sign up for the November workshop and win like never before. So sign up today and can figure out what you’ve been missing. It could be the key you need to find success in your career.

 

[00:28:12] So walk us through Rio. You actually got to compete but as you were being prepared it was not exactly what you were expecting I don’t think. So walk us through. Because you made headlines worldwide it was one of the biggest and brightest stories of the games but not for reasons you would expect. So tell us what happen.

 

Abbey:

[00:28:31] During the preliminary round of the 5K we start off pretty conservatively. And that’s exactly what happened which was completely to my benefit. As I said I’ve been working really hard in the pool but I wasn’t quite sure where my fitness was at. So we started off at a pace that I could handle. And about 3K into the race right where it usually starts to pick up. It did. And I was in the very back of the pack. And you know I guess there was just some sort of sudden pace change up front of the pack and there was a domino effect. And a couple people the gal in front of me fell and my foot got caught under her. And little did I know I had torn my ACL and meniscus. But yeah. I was able to get up. And both of us this woman Nikki Hamblin from New Zealand and I were both able to help each other to our feet and then finished the race. And then later when I couldn’t walk I found out that I had torn my ACL and meniscus. So in short that is what happened.

 

[00:29:54] But you know there were so many small moments and big moments throughout my experience. Even before that the race in Rio where got to just place people in my life or encouragement in my life. To like give me strength in the moment where I had to make a decision like I’m hurt. What do we do? And it just happened so quickly that the decision to get up and help this other girl from New Zealand like that is not. It happened so quickly. I know from the bottom of my heart I can’t take any credit for that. That’s not the way that I’m wired. You know I had the same goals as everyone else out there to go and to compete in the final. And so the fact that it was an instinct to get up and help her is just the work of the Holy Spirit. As I said he had made me so dependent on him in the time leading up to it. And things have been so hard that I had no choice but to rely on his strength and be fueled by his joy. As I said there were so many little things that had happened.

 

[00:31:18] I’ll just share one quick thing. There was an Olympic chaplain named Madeline Manning Mims who had shared a story. So she’s an Olympian she ran in the 68 and she had several time Olympian. She just shared an experience of back when she ran in the big games and she was in a relay and she had hurt her knee. And in the middle of the race it was a 4×4. And like coming around the bend with 100 meters to go she could feel her knee. I mean it was affecting her stride and she remembers praying Lord help me. And she finished the race but she does not remember that last hundred meters. And several years later she went back to the track where that Games was held. And she just realized, I don’t remember it but this is where the Lord carried me through. And she shared a verse from Ephesians 3:20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we could ask or think. And then it goes on. And I was so inspired by that story. And I’d written on my hand actually that day “Now to him who is able”.

 

[00:32:41] And so when I fell I remember like it was this is just the work of God. Like everything’s happening so quickly that I was just like Madeline. I thought about her. I thought about how the Lord had carried her through. And that really I mean that just spoke through me and allowed me to continue on despite you know knowing something was seriously wrong with my knee. So yeah. I’m just so thankful to be an instrument in the larger story that the Lord was telling through what happened there.

 

Laura:

[00:33:18] Did you realize in those moments that it was a big deal?

 

Abbey:

[00:33:23] I had no idea that it would receive the media that it did whatsoever. No idea. Of course this is the 5K prelim so it’s like 8:30 in the morning or something. You know there were barely any people in the stands. Until I think that is such a testament to the way the Lord is too. I mean the way that it happened I am thankful. I believe that I belonged at the at the Olympic Games and you know what I like self-deprecating. But I was not in a position to medal or even close that year. And so the fact that it would happen to me and another gal who was in a similar position at the you know the problem of a race no one is there. Like that’s just like the Lord has just wrapped himself in humility. The whole situation was wrapped in humility. And so I think that’s such a cool piece of like how it happened and the fact that it points to him. So yeah. It’s really cool.

 

Laura:

[00:34:29] I love reading because of course I have to do my due diligence and stock you a little bit before you know we talk. But I was reading some things that Nikki had said too. And she just curled up into a ball when she fell in front of you and in slow mo. I can totally see your knee go out too. That’s ah! Yeah. That kind of felt good. But she said she was just curled up in this ball and you kept saying you have to get up. You have to finish the race. And she said if you hadn’t told her that she said I might still be laying in a ball on the track you know. But you just like you said God was preparing you and feeding you that message like you just have to get up and finish. And she got up and then that’s when your knee started to get out and you collapsed and she helped you back up. And you eventually went on. You had four laps left I believe is that right?

 

Abbey:

[00:35:13] Yeah. Something like that. Yep 4-5.

 

Laura:

[00:35:15] You ran the last 4 laps on a torn ACL and meniscus. I mean it was just incredible. And you guys embracing after it was over. Those are the parts that the world the rest of the world saw you know and understood immediately. And that’s why it was so beautiful about the Olympics right. So it’s amazing and people to whom do these great feats and someone win these medals. That there’s those moments is really human humble moments where you realize that just your humanity is way more important. And then just being a person of love and to not worry about what’s happening to your result. But you care enough to pick up the person next to you and help them cross that finish line or get up and go. You know I mean that’s why it’s so beautiful I think.

 

Abbey:

[00:35:56] Thank you. Yeah. Like I said I can’t take any credit for the event itself and how it went down because it doesn’t belong to me. But at the same time I agree with you. I do think it’s amazing. I’m stunned by it and grateful to just be a part of it. Because it really has broadened my platform and ability. A means through which I can use this sport to point to the Lord and point to what really matters.

 

Laura:

[00:36:28] So cool. Well afterward I mean I’m wondering. I want to hear about your kind of post Olympic experience. Because I know like President Obama you know even said you guys are exactly what the Olympic spirit in the American spirit should be all about. You and Nicki were nominated for the Laureus World Sports Awards you were nominated for the best sporting moment. I mean was it like a whirlwind? What happened after that? And what was that experience like?

 

Abbey:

[00:36:53] Right. Oh so overwhelming at first. You know I know for both Nikki and I had a chance to speak with her a few times afterward. And both of us are pretty introverted. You know despite opportunities like this we have to speak to larger audiences. But yeah I mean the next day we had a slew of interviews and we were still just emotionally processing it ourselves. And Nikki actually was still gearing up to run the final a few days later. So I can imagine what it was like for her. But yeah I mean even going home afterward and just having to get surgery and thankfully was able to. My mom is a nurse and was so cared for and just kind of nourished in that time. I was able to just be like you know have a small circle around me. Because it was so overwhelming and just it allowed me time to digest the experience and feel thankful. Yeah I mean just process all of the emotions that came with it.

 

[00:38:12] And since that time I’ve just kind of having surgery and recovering from that. I do still feel a calling to a deep calling to continue clearly. You know I’m still running now and still doing the best that I can to make it to the Olympic trials in 2020. Yeah I just I sense that the Lord isn’t done with me in this realm yet. And I know there is still potential to be released. So I have been continually humbled by just how long it’s taken for me to just feel like myself again. I feel like I’ve had glimpses of it. But you know my injury is such a unique experience for an Italy distance runner. You know there aren’t many practitioners who have worked with someone like me before. So I’m sort of a case study and taking time to find the right people. And then of course you know I’ve gotten married and moved in that time as well. So just a lot of transitions and adjustments. And so what I just continue to again re-learn is just that it’s OK to sometimes they get frustrated. Because when you care a lot about something.

 

[00:39:42] You know I have this dream of reaching my potential and making it to the 2020 Olympics or another Olympics. And when I still can do to have little glitches and things pop up because my body isn’t quite balanced yet. I do some get frustrated. And God’s reminding me that it’s OK to still have that dream could still believe it. But you just can’t envision what it looks like together. You’ll never know you know. And if I’ve learned one thing from Rio it’s just that God can take our dreams and rewrite them for His glory and for our ultimate benefit. And that’s exactly what he did in Rio and so I just need to trust that. From now probably for the rest of my life never gonna happen as pictured or as anticipated. And I’m just learning to find his peace and joy in that.

 

Laura:

[00:40:48] Yeah. That’s so beautiful and so true. Yeah. I totally understand where you’re coming from. I’ve been through a lot of these seasons myself so I’m relating a lot of what you’re saying. So what kind of advice would you give to an up and coming athlete?

 

Abbey:

[00:41:05] It’s a great question that I get asked quite a bit. And I always feel unsatisfied with my or dissatisfied with my response because it’s a little bit cliched. But one thing that I always caution against is just getting to. I guess the best way the best advice is to be sure you’re cultivating joy in your pursuit whether it’s sport or anything else. Because I think you know the trends now in our culture is just early specialization. And just hyper-focus and hyper volume especially in runners early on. And the potential for burnout is so strong physically and psychologically and emotionally. So yeah I look fondly although sometimes in my high school experiences I wouldn’t have said the same. But I do look back fondly upon those experiences because we just kept a really lighthearted atmosphere at practice. And I was not overdoing it in terms of my actual physical training. And yeah it just takes time. I think so many of the athletes that I compete against will say the same thing. Where it just so much of success is just layers of consistency. And so if you squeeze too much out of yourself too soon there’s a definite risk in that.

 

[00:43:05] And then another thing that I think is even more important is just along the way asking the WHY question. You know. Why is the sport so important to you? And why does it bring you joy? And can it ultimately satisfy you? You know it’s so hard. I certainly didn’t have the maturity to ask that question when I was in high school. But I think the simple like WHY? is a great place to start. And hopefully you can start getting the wheels turning about like the deeper things. Even if an athlete hasn’t experienced a challenge in their sport quite yet it will come inevitably in some form. So the earlier you can start finding your identity in the right things the better.

 

Laura:

[00:43:56] So good. Well, so I guess how can we follow you online or cheer you on the way to Tokyo in 2020?

 

Abbey:

[00:44:07] So both my Instagram and Twitter handles are @abbey_dags my main name. And I’m on Facebook as well Abby Cooper I just have an athlete page on there. So yeah. I would appreciate your support.

 

Laura:

[00:44:29] Of course we’ll make sure to link to that in the shownote so everybody can just click on that and follow you because we definitely want to cheer you on. Abby thank you so much for coming on for inspiring us for sharing your journey for being so open and vulnerable with all of those things we really appreciate it. And I think it’s going to help all of us grow a little bit more.

 

Abbey:

[00:44:47] Thank you Laura. Thank you for such insightful questions. Just being able to relate through your experience.

 

Laura:

[00:44:55] Isn’t she incredible. Hearing her whole tumultuous road to Rio gives so much backstory to that moment on the track that went viral around the world. She had already been through so many trials and difficulties and was building her identity throughout it all. So falling at the Olympics was just an opportunity to once again get up and keep going. I hope that you feel inspired today to keep going through those hard moments and to remember that your words isn’t wrapped up in your situation or your performance. If you’re an athlete in these themes are hitting home for you then check out the work that hope sports is doing. Hope sports has upcoming workshops and programs for athletes looking to develop a value based performance mentality. Just check out the show notes for more information. Up next week we have Jonathan Horton sharing about the ups and downs of his 28 year career in gymnastics that includes two Olympic medals. I’m your host Laura Wilkinson. Thanks for listening. This podcast is produced by Evo Terra and Simpler Media. For more information on Hope sports and to access the complete archives please visit HopeSport.org

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