Matt Hemingway, a 2004 Olympic silver medalist in the high jump, told the Tabor College student body at a Feb. 7 convocation that God has directed his life through the gift of high jump.
“I can’t express to you the honor it was to go to Athens to represent my country and to represent Christ the best way I knew how,” he said.
Hemingway was born in San Pedro, Calif., in 1972. He graduated from Buena Vista (Colo.) High School in 1991 and went on to attend the University of Arkansas.
According to Hemingway, one of the first times he was used as a witness for Christ was in a stand against the school mascot: the demons.
“I decided at a very early age that I would not wear demons on my jerseys,” he said. “I took quite a bit of heat for that. It was a decision that I made that had to do with my faith.”
The Buena Vista track coach saw Hemingway’s potential and ordered uniforms without demons. Hemingway participated in the track and field program and broke the school high jump record as a junior. That year he went on to win the state track meet.
Hemingway jumped 7-feet, 4 inches as a senior and decided to continue his education at the University of Arkansas.
“I ended up going to the University of Arkansas because it had a great track program,” he said. “The track coach there just won his 39th national championship. It’s the most successful athletic program in the history of the United States.”
During his time in Arkansas, Hemingway said he made his faith his own.
“I had grown up knowing my faith, but I think I really wrestled with knowing where my faith really was grounded in Christ,” he said.
In 1996, Hemingway was the first alternate for the Olympic Team. In 1997, Adidas offered him a shoe contract.
“A year later I fell out of love with the sport-I really hated it,” he said. “Through a series of events I really felt like God was saying, ‘Matt, walk away from the sport, you’re done.'”
During his time away from jumping, Hemingway worked as a rafter for Noah’s Ark White Water Rafting in Colorado. He also married and took a job with Quest Communications.
Hemingway then decided that he missed jumping and went back to it for fun.
His first meet back, he jumped 7-41/2 and qualified for the national championships. Four weeks later, he jumped 7-93/4 and set the national championship record for the United States. However, in 2000, he placed last at the Olympic trials.
Two months later, Hemingway came back to Colorado to spend time with his family. The night he returned he got a phone call that his father had died.
“It absolutely broke my heart, and I didn’t understand why,” he said. “And then it hit me. If I was on that plane to Sydney, which I would have been right then, I would have missed a funeral. And that’s where I needed to be.
“So it wasn’t a great experience, but I knew that God had it figured out. God had a plan in all that.”
For two years, Hemingway didn’t jump. In 2002, he placed seventh in the world. In 2003, he made the world championship team and placed second to last.
Finally, in 2004, Hemingway qualified for the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, and placed second with a jump of 7-81/4.
“It was such an honor to be there and such a privilege to just be competing at that level, that nobody really expected much out of me,” he said.
“When the world expects everyone else to do something, and when you’ve got God on your side, it seems to me that he writes the script and figures out how it goes.
“In all that has happened in track and field, all the roads that I’ve traveled, all the gifts I’ve been given and all the privileges of being able to travel and share Christ with people, is purely by the truths and grace of God,” he said.
“And it’s an honor, an absolute honor, to live that transformed life.”