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Running Toward a New Prize

By Henk Kamsteeg, Editor of Challenge Weekly, New Zealand
Courtesy of ASSIST News Service - TAUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND (ANS) -- It seemed time had run out for Nick Willis to qualify for the New Zealand Olympic team. However, after failing at various meets in the US and Europe, the Michigan-based athlete slashed past the required mark of 3.36.20, running 3.32.64 on a Saturday-morning, June 2nd, in Rome. It was the third fastest 1500-meter time ever by a New Zealander, and good enough to be on the road to the Olympic Games in Athens.

Nick has always found running fast to be easy. He set the national under-20 mile record at age 17, and came in fourth in the world junior championship 1500m final in 2002.

The 21-year-old still remembers the shock of losing his first race at the age of 13. Now he is proud to be representing his country and feels it’s great that a “skateboarding kid from Lower Hutt can foot it at the Olympic Games in Athens.”

Willis has big track shoes to fill…Jack Lovelock, Peter Snell, John Walker…

Nick grew up in a Christian family, but somehow he had always been in a state of denial.

“For the most part, I think, I always believed in God, but decided that I had more important things to concern myself with,” he said. “Why take things seriously as a kid when I've got my whole life to become a Christian? That’s what I thought anyway.

“I guess that I never really had any close friends who were Christians, to encourage me to attend church with them. The party-lifestyle at High School seemed to dictate how most people I was around, acted. Basically running, drinking, hanging with my mates and meeting girls at parties was the core of my youth.”

After finishing his first year as a sophomore at the University of Michigan, USA, Nick came home to New Zealand for his summer break.

“Things had ended in a sour way with my girlfriend, and I was in a bit of a soul search,” he said. “Having been away from home for a year, looked at things through a much different perspective and took a lot more notice at the way people were acting. My brother had taken a job as a leader at Youth for Christ, and was also running a house helping out Kids with alcohol and drug problems. His influence on me was fairly substantial, and I realised that it would be a slap in the face to his work if I didn't believe in what he was doing.”

Arriving back in Michigan, Nick was plugged into a group called “Athletes in Action” (AIA), Christians who gather for Bible study, by his brother’s good friend, Mark Misch.

“After having weekly meetings initially, I started meeting one on one with the Head of the Michigan AIA Division, Bruce Disnow, and also with his intern, John Moss. These two men helped me open up and I decided to let Jesus into my heart and I was ‘born again’ in October 2003.”

His decision to follow Jesus impacted Nick’s life as an athlete.

“Knowing that God has the best intentions in mind, it takes all the nerves away from a race,” he says. “However, at the same time, when I have great success I don't feel as jubilant in the victory, but almost a little embarrassed with His grace in my life. The time I spend preparing for important races, especially on race day, is probably my most intimate time with God. I used to feel very alone getting ready for these races, but now I spend most of my time reflecting on things with God. I pray to be humble in defeat or victory, but mostly just thank Him for such great opportunities.”

Being a Christian also changed Nick’s lifestyle fairly dramatically.

“The way I view and treat others, especially girls, has been probably the biggest change in my life,” he said. “I am still pretty embarrassed at how I acted before giving my life to Jesus. Now I think a lot more before making decisions, and God is chipping away the rough edges in my life. God has already taken away jealousy and negativity from my thoughts.

“I realise I am only at the beginning of my exciting journey with Jesus. I have a long way to go yet and I have much to learn. But with God all things are possible and I know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him. If God is for me, who can be against me?

“I just pray that I hope I can one day be able to carry these spiritual times into more facets of my everyday life and bring glory to God in whatever I do.”

(Aged four, Nick lost his mother to cancer before he got the chance to know her well. He loves his dad, a Professor at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, and the way he brought up his three kids, Stephen, Mieke and himself. Nick is currently on an Athletic scholarship at the University of Michigan in the United States.)

Assist News Service is brought to you in part by Open Doors USA, a ministry that has served the Suffering Church around the world for nearly 50 years. You can get more information by logging onto their website at

Note from Assist News Service: This story was first published in Challenge Weekly, New Zealand, and is used by their kind permission.

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