What soccer player has been compared to Terminator 2 for incredible displays of perseverance, hailed as "the toughest player I have ever played with," by one of the world's greatest players, and recognized for always giving "it all on the field, fighting for teammates" by the national coach?
If you did not watch the 1999 Women's World Cup, you may be unfamiliar with Michelle Akers. It was Brandi Chastain, whose penalty kick clinched the USA win, who called Akers "the toughest player I have ever played with." If you did watch the final game against China, you saw an exhausted Akers collapse at the end of regulation. Taken to the locker room for fluids, Akers did not even see Chastain's winning shot.
Recognized as one of the all-time great soccer players, Michelle Akers has endured 12 knee operations. And since 1991, the world-class athlete has suffered with Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome. In a Tulsa World story Akers described what battling CFIDS is like,
"For the most part, I feel OK. I don't think I will ever be normal again -- normal for me anyway. But I feel good. I'll take what I can get now. But in my worst years, it was like having the 24-hour flu day-in and day- out and day-in and day-out with no hope of aspirin helping or a doctor telling you, `Just go home and get a couple of days of rest and you will be all right.' There is no respite. Even your sleep isn't restful. It's a constant battle against your body to keep going while you are wishing you are dead."
What has sustained Akers through this suffering? She points to her faith in Jesus, "People think I'm a superhuman person and I'm not. [CFIDS] affects me pretty badly. I try to encourage people to look at who they are and not what they can do. My faith was my starting point."
Akers' faith has sustained her despite the disease and helps her to play her hardest on the field. During World Cup games, Akers would write the name of someone special to her on her ankle tape. In this way, she dedicated the game to friends and relatives. But for the championship, Akers simply wrote "Joshua 1:9."
That Bible verse says, "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go."
Akers wrote on her website (MichelleAkers.com) about the impact Joshua 1:9 had on her play against China:
"It reminded me that being strong and courageous is not optional. God commands it. If I wimp out or give less than my best, then I am disobeying God. My courage and strength come from Him. If I am living out God's will and my body is totally thrashed, then even though I might not be getting up on the outside, I am still standing up in triumph on the inside. This verse is what carried me through much of the World Cup and continues to carry me now."
Akers' ability to fight through her pain and still be a tough, physical player who gives it her all inspired her U.S. team. The national coach at the time of the World Cup, Tony DiCicco, said, "Michelle Akers inspires me and everybody else on the U.S. team."
No matter what your struggles or the obstacles you may face, God promises to be with you. Let God's command to be "strong and courageous" inspire you to give your all both on and off the field. God will be with you. "Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go."