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Fall '21 Scholarship Runner-up Essay

Liberty student, Mark Fairley, is the runnier-up for USG's Fall 2021 scholarship.

Mark Fairley has been a USG member since the summer of 2020. He has been is a great example of being a light for Christ in the sport industry!

Mark Fairley - Liberty University, Graduate Assistant with the XC and Track & Field Teams

In the world of sports, each coach, player and team is primarily defined by wins and losses. Today’s culture promotes a “win at all costs” mindset. Books, speakers, conferences and more discuss how to get to the top and get there fast. Elite athletes pursue championships, wins and contracts as their ultimate priority. Such goals consume their every thought and guide their every decision. The most prominent example of this pursuit appears to be in competitive cycling, especially evident in well-known rise and fall of Lance Armstrong. Doping in elite cyclists had been suspected for years despite widespread testing. Athletes had developed ways to circumvent the testing and still participate in performance enhancing methods that compromise standard morals and values. Lance Armstrong’s practices were uncovered and he fell from grace. In his “I Am Second” Video, Tony Dungy quoted Mark 8:36 which says, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” As Christ followers in the sports industry, we have a higher calling. Our calling is to make disciples.

As a graduate assistant coach for cross-country, track and field at Liberty University, my goal is to make disciples. At the NCAA Division I level, where winning is everything and athletes will go to extreme measures to excel, there are a lot of opportunities to direct athletes to focus on eternal matters. Some coaches care primarily about the athlete’s performance to the exclusion of the person. At Liberty University, we are committed to pointing athletes to pursue a relationship with the Lord above all else as they train to be “Champions for Christ”.

Focusing on Christ first in our athletic employment and endeavors will lead to unexpected blessings. It is difficult at the age of 25 to foresee God’s master plan for my life. Yet as I reflect on the past, I see evidence of his faithfulness in using me to share his love with others. God can take a simple act of kindness and turn it into something of eternal significance. Last year at Liberty a student named Josh expressed interest in trying out for the cross-country team. At the one-mile time trial, Josh’s performance was a disappointing 45 seconds short of the target to join the team. Sensing his discouragement, I offered to help him improve. We agreed to meet, and I shared some advice along with an individualized training schedule. This developed into weekly workouts during which I learned that Josh was a Buddhist. Other interested students began to join us until we had about 40 runners with all different ability levels. Out of this extension of help to Josh was born the officially approved Liberty Running Club!

Because of the relationship that I had built with Josh, the Lord laid it on my heart to intentionally share the gospel. Following an hour conversation and many questions, Josh surrendered His life to the Lord and became a Christian. Truly this was an unexpected blessing confirming that God is in the business of doing so much more than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). Josh is now my brother in Christ, a co-worker with the Running Club and motivated to use whatever gifts and talents that God has given him to the best of his ability.

Through this experience, I have realized that sports are abundantly more than just wins or losses. Sports are an avenue in which God can transform lives and hearts to be fully devoted to Him. As an aspiring coach, I will capture every opportunity to show athletes that there is much more to life than wins, championships and contracts. As Tony Dungy said, “You can glorify the Lord in every circumstance. How you respond to failure and how you respond to disappointments says a lot more than how you handle successes.” Each individual must determine their priorities and act accordingly. As believers of Jesus Christ, our number one priority is to glorify Him and tell others about the good news of salvation that God offers to all who would believe.

Stay tuned as for an announcement with our Spring 2022 Reflection Scholarship prompt! Our team looks forward to hearing more encouraging and uplifting stories from this next round of our scholarship program.


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