Paul Felix sees a different side of things.
His daughter Allyson Felix, for example, won three track and field gold medals at the London 2012 Olympic games, the most any female track athlete has earned since 1988. But her most impressive feat, he believes, wasn’t her 200-meter victory, a race where she had disappointedly taken silver four years before in Beijing and eight years before in Athens…or her 4×100-meter relay gold…or her 4×400-meter relay gold.
He was most impressed with her fifth place finish in the 100 meters in London. Fifth place, especially in America, is as irrelevant as rhythmic gymnastics, but her time in the 100 was a personal record. He was proud of her.
“She won three gold medals, but people don’t talk about the fact she took fifth in the 100, which was a personal best,” says Paul, an associate professor of New Testament at Master’s Seminary in Sun Valley, Calif. “Everyone came out of the woodwork when she won the 200, but what she accomplished in the 100 was absolutely amazing. No one even picked her to run the 100, but she ends up taking fifth and running a personal best.”
Maybe it’s a silly example, but that’s what I like about Paul Felix. He has an enlightening and convicting perspective on life that makes you question whether your own perspective is too narrow. And throughout Allyson’s entire career, that’s what he’s done: provided perspective in every situation for his family (his son Wes, wife Marlean and daughter Allyson), specifically in the 200 meters the last three Olympic games.
The Olympic 200 has always hung over Allyson’s head like Steve Nash’s ring-less fingers.
In the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Allyson took silver (as an 18-year-old, by the way), finishing behind Jamaica’s Veronica Campbell-Brown. Oddly, Allyson didn’t take a victory lap to celebrate her silver medal. When she saw her parents face-to-face that evening, she cried in her mother Marlean’s arms.
“Shug,” Paul said, calling her by her nickname, “realize what you just accomplished.” He helped her see the positives. She was only 18. At the end of 10th grade, she had run against Marion Jones, and now she was here taking a silver medal in the Olympics. Not bad when most 18-year-olds are just trying to survive Algebra 2 and find a date to prom.
“Once we helped her keep it in proper perspective, she realized that she really accomplished a lot,” Paul says.
Allyson entered the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing heavily favored to win the 200 after taking gold in the 2005 and 2007 World Championships. But there was Jamaica’s Campbell-Brown, again, with a comfortable lead at the finish line. This time, though sobbing, Allyson took her victory lap. She famously cried in the basement of the Bird’s Nest stadium.
In 2004, she was only 18.
In 2008, she was favored…and she lost.
“I know she was disappointed, but it wasn’t the end of the world,” Paul says.
Again, he reminded her of what she had achieved. He reminded her that track and field doesn’t define who you really are. He reminded her that it’s not the end of the world and that she still had races to run.
She entered the 2012 Olympic Games in London with another World Championship (2009) under her belt, longing for a resolution to her 200-meter Olympic woes.
But there was Paul, again, helping her see what’s most important. He gave her a note before London. It said to get a gold medal—to attain her dream and take first in the 200 meters—but more importantly, the note encouraged Allyson to strive for gold in her personal life, her spiritual walk.
“When I see an athlete accomplish something in the athletic world, it reminds me that God wants me to give that same thing in the spiritual realm…I want to do it for an eternal reap, something that lasts forever,” Paul says. “…The world that we live in, I just think that we have to keep our minds renewed and see things properly and see them from God’s perspective.”
See, if I were Paul Felix, I think I’d be a little self-consumed after my daughter won the 200 and left London with enough gold that you’d think she mugged a leprechaun. I’d be as arrogant as Usain Bolt (okay, that’s exaggerated and impossible), pridefully talking about how I raised her, telling everyone that my daughter was the greatest female track Olympian in 20 years. I would ride her fame like a surfboard.
But, like his excitement for Allyson’s finish in the 100 meters, Paul Felix sees things a little bit differently.
“I’m excited she’s getting recognition,” Paul says. “But my wife and I have always said that our greatest joy is to hear that our children, Wes and Allyson, are walking in the truth. Go after winning a gold medal in your relationship with Him. In my mind, that’s far more important.”
This story was published in the July 2012 Sports Spectrum DigiMag. Print and digital subscribers, log in and view the issue here. Stephen Copeland is a staff writer and columnist at Sports Spectrum magazine. His column tackles sports and faith from another angle, whether it’s humorous, personal or controversial. Follow him on Twitter-@steve_copeland or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.