Bumps and Bruises...The Story of Sally Ward

by

Charles White


There is an old joke that asks, “Want to make God laugh, make a plan.” This is something that Sally Ward knows all too well. While at the pinnacle of competitive rhythmic gymnastics, Sally heard a still, small voice that would change her life forever.

 

Unlike most gymnasts, Sally Ward didn’t begin her quest for Olympic gold at age 3 or 4. In fact, Sally didn’t begin gymnastics until she was 8 and took up rhythmic gymnastics at the advanced age of 10. Only one year later, Sally found herself competing at Nationals.

 

Unlike most kids her age, Sally’s days consisted of an equal mix of school and training. As early as fourth grade, Sally’s coaches saw a spark of greatness inside of her; a spark that they wanted to help her cultivate.

 

“I had a very unique childhood. I started training twice a day a few days a week, when I was in fourth grade because my coach saw talent in me. I was having early morning practices in fourth grade and then practicing from 5 to 9 at night a few days a week.”

 

Although it sounds like Sally Ward was destined to achieve greatness in the sport or rhythmic gymnastics, her journey wasn’t without some speed bumps along the way. Some judges felt Sally didn’t have the talent to compete at the National or International level. They told her to give it up and walk away, but Sally was determined to do the best she could and let God do the rest.

 

Following a last place finish at Nationals at the age of eleven, Sally decided that she could no longer go it alone. Although she had the full support of her family and her coaches, Sally realized that she needed a partner out there on the floor. She came to realize that that partner was God.

 

“My coach told me that she believed in me and that I had talent. I believed that I had something in me to help me do the job. I believe that with God and with me trying my best that I could succeed. I just felt like I should stay in the sport at that time and not just give up. I was Holy Spirit led to keep going.”

 

From then on, Sally dedicated all of her performances to God and looked to Him for strength and support during all of the difficult times. With God by her side, Sally moved forward and reached for her dreams of gold.

 

“You have to have faith in God, but you are the body that does the work. The Holy Spirit can help you move towards your goal, but you have to yield to that and turn off what everyone else is saying around you. Focus on what you’re doing and what God’s saying and do your best. It doesn’t matter what other people say about you, it’s about what God thinks of you that makes you a winner.”

 

Not all of the struggles that Sally faced were in the gym. As a young athlete, she also faced the heartache of missing normal childhood things such as sleep-overs, hanging out with friends and birthday parties. Although she tried to fit in as much as possible, the strain of trying to compete internationally finally dictated that one last vestige of childhood must also go-school. At the age of 13 faced with the fact that she would fail if she continued to attend public school and constantly travel, Sally Ward left school and began to be tutored privately so she could continue to compete.

 

Although it seems like Sally gave up so much to be able to compete internationally, she also gained so much more. As one of the top rhythmic gymnasts, Sally was able to visit much of the world before she was even old enough to drive. In her teammates, she found a family that stuck by her; one of which is still her best friend to this day.

 

At the age of 14, Sally had become the number one junior rhythmic gymnast in the world. She appeared all over the world on countless television programs and was featured in numerous publications. She achieved notoriety in her sport and had her sights set on achieving her dream of Olympic Gold.

 

However all of that was about to change. Sally began to feel a tapping on her shoulder as the days went by. It was the partner that had been there with her during her meteoric rise-God. In a still, small voice he whispered in her ear, “ It is time to leave.”

 

Following agonizing struggle and prayer, Sally decided to leave the world of competitive rhythmic gymnastics and return to a “normal life”. It was a decision that wasn’t easy, but one that she knew that she had to make. It wasn’t until she left the sport that she began to realize the toll that the sport had taken on her.

 

She returned from France barely recognizable to her family. At the age of 16, five foot four inch tall Sally weighed only 100 lbs. Worn-out and visibly unhealthy, she was shocked to learn that she had mononucleosis.

 

“I had come home with mono. I had competed with mono for two months. I worked out 8 hrs a day with mono and competed at the World Championships with mono. I would go home to my hotel room and pass out at night. I didn’t even know that I had it. ”

 

Despite the illness, it was Sally’s chance to live a normal life in her then home of St. Augustine, Florida. However, normal wasn’t something that she was used to.

 

“I was used to getting up and I knew what time I had to get up and what I was going to put on because we all had to match all the time. We had itineraries, certain diets, and similar schedules. I didn’t have one spare minute to myself during that time. I did good if I got to lay in bed and read my bible and stay awake because I was so tired from training all day. Getting back into a normal life was a definite change. I didn’t know what to do with the freedom I had because my life was so structured and that was really difficult for me to transition.”

 

This freedom proved difficult for Sally. Without rhythmic gymnastics, Sally was forced to redefine herself. Faced with newfound freedom and the pressures that every teen faces, Sally developed an eating disorder.  Overwhelmed by the pressure to be thin, she eventually became bulimic.

 

Her struggle with bulimia continued during high school and began to threaten her life.  She went to various therapists and doctors, but the disorder persisted. It wasn’t until she was led to attend a Bible college in Texas, that she was able to confront her self-image and control her bulimia.

 

Through prayer and wrestling with The Word, Sally realized that she was loved and that God, not food or anything else, should be in control of her life.  Her struggle is one that she continues to share with teens to this day and helps them to realize the comfort and strength that can only be found in Christ. Now, success for Sally isn’t found in gold medals or gymnastic matches. Instead, success is simply about walking with God and following His lead.

 

 

“Success is for me is fulfilling the plan of God for my life. That is what I focus on. I believe that God is inside of me and His grace is in me. I heard this definition that said that grace is the ability of God in you to do what you can’t do for yourself. I think that is so true.  I totally rely on God in me to do what I’m called to do for him. My goal is to be the best that I can be; be the best that God has made me to be for Him.”

 

Sally continues to travel and share her life lessons and love of Christ with teens throughout the country as a member of the “Girls Of Grace” conference series. She speaks passionately to teens from her own experiences on eating disorders, setting and achieving goals, abstinence, finding God's plan for your life and the importance of Christ in their lives.

 

Sally Ward is living proof that all things are possible through Christ Jesus. Not just things like academic or athletic victories, but the really hard stuff; the day-to-day stuff. Just getting out of bed can be a struggle some days, but there is always someone waiting at the side of your bed to take your hand and walk with you every step of the way. That person is Jesus. When life gets you down and seems too hard, turn to your partner, Jesus, and he will give you the strength to continue onward and do His work, just like he did for Sally.

 

To learn more about Sally Ward and her ministry, log onto her website

www.sallywardministries.com