Having been involved in sports since an early age and going on to represent Singapore in the SEA Games, Chui Ling Goh pens her own journey and shares what God has been teaching her through sports.
WHO AM I?
It has been 17 years since I started high-performance sports. As a young 13-year-old girl in a neighbourhood school, I was looking for my individual identity, innate self-worth, and unique passions in life. My parents and sisters were my role models, but they were not … me. I sought myself and it might take a lifetime for me to say I truly know who God has created me to be, but through sports, I have gotten glimpses of the glory of the Lord and the individualised journey He has for me. In brief, God took my personal passions and adapted it for His plans, and I find myself going through a journey of faith to remain faithful to Him in a world that denies Him.
Through sports, I have gotten glimpses of the glory of the Lord
and the individualised journey He has for me.
SPORTS AND ME
To say I was created to do sports is an understatement. I come from an extraordinarily sporty family and was born with a competitive spirit. I was identified by teachers and coaches in schools for my inclination towards sports, and even out-sported my male classmates from a young age. At the age of 15 after entering the national youth squad, with no structured training, I was invited to train with (and eventually invited to attend) one of the top junior colleges in Singapore. When I was 19, I was invited to apply (and was eventually offered) the inaugural sports scholarship with National University of Singapore, when I also joined the national senior squad. By the age of 24, I was offered jobs based on my affiliation with sports, on the condition that I continue sports.
Through the different stages of my life, I contemplated and even took steps to leave sports, but sports always found me. When I was 26, I decided that I was going to retire from competitive sports because I started work as a lawyer and the pressures of my legal career felt too much for me to bear. But my legal mentor and coaches around me decided that it was not the end of my sporting career and tussled me out of retirement. I struggled and wrestled like Jacob wrestled with the Lord (Gen 32:22–32), but I relented when I learnt that it was not just God who wanted me in sports but that I myself had a grave passion for sports that I could no longer deny. I learnt that I loved running. I learnt that I was running not because I had to continue my commitment with the national team, or because I wanted to keep my scholarship or financial opportunities with sports. I learnt that despite the ups and downs in my life, I loved running. It brought me unspeakable joy and a sense of achievement that I could not find in other areas of my life.
However, through the many years of being in sports and despite being connected to various sports ministries (like Cru Athletes in Action), I struggled to comprehend and align the demands of high-performance sports together with God’s plan and purpose (for me) in sports. I had two deep-seated intellectual and spiritual struggles with sports and God:
- What is God’s purpose in the physical pain of high-performance sports that I go through regularly, and how am I supposed to find God within?
- How can I juggle the innate and common-place self-centredness in high-performance sports that is antithetical to God’s call for us to love and honour others (Luke 6:35)?
If I am not able to be good, or practise godly values in the field of sports, am I deserving of being a witness for the Lord? The lack of alignment between sports and God in my life saw me retract many times back to my shell, feeling undeserving of my spot in sports on the one hand, and lacking purpose and intentionality in sports, on the other.
SEA GAMES 2023
In 2023, after years of a dull life in sports,the Lord intervened. It started with my 1500m event at the South-East Asian (SEA) Games, when things went beyond my control and spiralled. The schedule of my events was changing multiple times at the eleventh hour, causing additional stress and anxiety on my already pressured body. On top of the additional stress, I struggled deeply with sleep the night before due to external factors, like the random beeping of a smoke detector running out of battery. I went into the competition like a zombie, feeling defeated, only to experience God in a measure that I did not foresee. At the end of the race, I clinched the bronze medal in the 1500m event. It was a miracle. The run became my testimony, and the Lord assured me that despite my inability to find purpose and self-worth in sports (yet, then), I had work to do there, and He was honouring my passion in running.
The run became my testimony, and the Lord assured me
that despite my inability to find purpose
and self-worth in sports (yet, then),
I had work to do there, and He was honouring my passion in running.
DEALING WITH MY HEART
Over the next few months, the Lord unravelled my approaches to sports and broke down deep strongholds I have had about sports and pain which had hindered me in my pursuit of sports. On many levels, I lacked the focus and will to be the head and not the tail (Deut 28:13). With the intellectual and spiritual struggles I have had with having a sporting career as a follower of Christ, I felt that I lacked the dignity and grace in sports that the Lord had bethrew me with (Prov 31:25–31). But now, I run more sober and clear-headed than ever before (1 Pet 1:13) — to make space to run with the bravery and courage that God has called me to run with (Josh 1:9), and run for and towards God through pain.
But now, I run more sober and clear-headed than ever before
… run for and towards God through pain.
ROLE MODELS IN SPORTS
But beyond my personal experiences, I saw the way in sports through other godly witnesses. I saw how it is entirely possible to be a world-class athlete without being selfish or self-glorifying. Athletes like Allyson Felix (USA), Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone (USA) and Nicola Olyslagers (Australia) have approached world-class sports selflessly, to be antithetical to the norm of the self-centredness of performance sports. Since top Christian athletes like them are able to practise their craft without being selfish and still reach the top of their sport, I do not need to conform to the selfish ways of the world in order to reach the top of my sport. To inherit the legacy of those who came before me is such a privilege; being able to run with the forerunners called by the Lord. I have accepted that I was not created to bear the glory of the world, and that gives me true freedom to run my best.
I do not need to conform to the selfish ways of the world
in order to reach the top of my sport.
When I was learning to be a Christian athlete, I was taught that I had to use the platform I was given to be a witness for the Lord (Matt 28:16–20, Isa 43:10). After years of wrestling intellectually with my purpose in sports for the Lord, I have structured three main dimensions of work for myself in sports. I call them P2P3:
- Platform to PRAY: Remembering my motivations and the Giver of my talents.
- Platform to PERFORM: Do not be lazy but do the hard work, and fight for my platform and influence, without losing sight of being a gracious competitor.
- Platform to PREACH: Give thanks for the talent and acknowledge that I am stewarding the talent I have been entrusted with. Be a witness to the Giver of my talents and the right motivation for sports.
These areas of work align my motivation and conduct to those of the Lord’s, in a world that does not acknowledge His existence and value. With these, I find my passion and conduct aligned and properly ordered with my spirit and godly values, allowing me the freedom and liberty to run my best for the Lord. This is how I choose to remain faithful in sports.