Gibson trusts God’s purposes in journey from retirement to second Olympics

PARIS (BP) — Disappointed in her performance at the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo, Alison Gibson said goodbye to the sport of diving for good. At least, that was her intention.

“I felt like I let my country down, let my friends down,” Gibson said. “It was just like a really gut-wrenching feeling.”

She officially retired and began what she considered to be a “normal” life — working, making money, having free time.

But God had other plans for Gibson. And thanks to a phone call from her synchro partner and the counsel of several mentors and friends, Gibson returned to diving. That decision paid off, as Gibson qualified for the Paris Olympics in the 3-meter springboard competition. This time she’ll compete in the individual competition.

“I think that’s what the last year of my life has been, really just trusting in God to do the impossible, trusting in God to give me courage to do things I never wanted to ever do again,” she said. “It’s crazy to me that I’m here, and the goodness of God is indescribable and unfathomable.”

Raised in a Christian home, Gibson made a profession of faith and was baptized when she was seven. Though she was a believer, a pivotal moment in her life came during her freshman year of college, when she was struggling with her sport and with her grades. A friend saw the difficulties Gibson was experiencing and helped her think through what she believed and why.

“That’s like my biggest moment of, ‘Hey, this is not just what my parents believed, but this truly, 100% is what I believe,’” she said. “It defines the way I act, the way I treat people, the choices that I make. And so, from that moment on until now, I’ve just been really leaning into that, leaning into my relationship with God.”

At her Olympic debut in 2021 in the synchronized 3-meter springboard event in Tokyo, Gibson and her partner Krysta Palmer finished in a disappointing eighth place. Frustration from that performance prompted Gibson’s retirement, until a year ago when Palmer called her.

“I think we can make the Olympic team,” Palmer told her. “You should come back.”

Gibson’s first reaction was negative. Her life was too good, she thought. A return to diving would mean sacrificing money, time and relationships that she didn’t want to sacrifice. In short, Gibson was afraid.

“But her call sparked something in my heart, so I started praying about it,” Gibson said. “And God just kept nudging me, ‘Alison, I have something for you.’”

Things began falling into place for Gibson’s return. Her parents promised to help support her. Her company told her they would let her work part-time. Sponsors emerged to help her financially. She says God gave her the courage to face her fears, and she felt His presence and provision each step of the way.

Gibson also recognized in her decision-making process that God had gifted her in certain ways, and she wanted to be faithful in using those gifts for His glory.

“God has a purpose in this, and I need to let go of this fear or this shame or these lies that I’m not good enough,” she said.

She has seen and felt the encouragement of family and friends. Her parents are members of Austin Baptist Church in Austin, Texas, and Gibson says the church has been incredibly supportive of her Olympic journey.

Jonathan Spencer, the church’s pastor, said Gibson has become part of the church’s extended family. She has shared her testimony in Bible study classes and was a featured speaker this year at a community Independence Day event the church hosted.

“She’s gotten a lot of prayer support from our church, from her parents’ Bible study class really bringing her into that support system,” Spencer said. “She’s had prayer cards that have been written for her and even will be sent to her in Paris.”

In her second Olympic experience, Gibson has two goals. Her first goal is to compete well and pour her heart and soul into her effort regardless of the outcome. Her second goal is to use her platform to raise awareness about a ministry that means a lot to her — Missions of Hope International, a Christian organization in Kenya that provides physical, emotional and spiritual support to impoverished children and their families.

Gibson sponsors a girl through the ministry, and she said there are 240 children at the Pangani School run by Missions of Hope International who are unsponsored. Her goal is for all 240 of those children to have sponsors.

“I’ve gotten medals in my life. I’ve gotten trophies. I’ve gotten awards,” Gibson said. “All that stuff fades. The medal gets dusty on a shelf, and the band unravels, and people forget about you, and people forget about your accomplishments. But what’s not forgotten is the impact that you have on someone’s life that can also impact future generations.”

The 2024 Olympic Games begin July 26. The women’s 3-meter springboard preliminary is scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 7, at 9 a.m. Eastern.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.)

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