“There is a moment in every race; a moment where you can either quit, fold, or say to yourself, ‘I can do this.’”
Christine Sheppard’s life has been filled with many such moments; moments where giving up was understandable – expected even. Yet in those situations Christine found the strength to say to herself, “I can do this!” Many of you have seen her run, or perhaps shared a class with her. Maybe you have served with her on STUFU, Sister-to-Sister or the Diversity Council. Either way, many Builders agree that Christine is an inspiration. She is passionate about everything she sets her heart to, and she pushes herself to unexpected limits! I was lucky to sit down with her and hear her tell her story. I hope that after reading this, you all will be as inspired as I was by this strong young woman who possesses…
The Heart of a Winner
“Perched on one of the couches in the newly-furnished Deets Library, I watch as ‘college life’ unfolds before my eyes. The door opens and the student assistant behind the desk looks up. Conditioned to smile at the sound of the door, she impulsively flashes her pearly whites to a student who clamors in frantically not noticing the friendly greeting prepared specifically for him. I realize now that the pressures of college can rob us of many precious moments. We can get so caught up in meeting deadlines, arriving to practice on time or just getting through the day that we fail to live in the moment.
As I beat myself up about missed chances, I am interrupted by that all-too-familiar woosh of the opening door. This time Christine Sheppard appears into view, and I come to see why so many Builders are inspired by her. Christine immediately makes eye contact with the library assistant and returns her smile. That gesture alone shows me that Christine is here – in this place at this time. I am surprised to learn that Christine has been in class all morning, and she has practice in less than two hours. I expect her to be preoccupied with the million-and-one things she has to do before the day is over. But, sitting here with me, she is completely present. She has cleared her mind for this moment and is putting in 100%.
This is the attitude Christine takes to every race and that is part of what makes her a winner. “I try to get my mind right,” she smiles, as she describes what goes on in her head at the start of each race, “I free myself of the things I can’t control. And focus on what I know.” After this mental purge, she channels her inner strength; that is the other requirement for running a winning race. She achieves this by reciting her favorite bible verse in her head. “I say a prayer and then I tell myself over and over again that I can do this; through Christ who gives me strength.” Philippians 4.13 has gotten her through many races. It has kept her going whenever she hits those moments in a race where she is tempted to give up.
This scripture has carried her through the hardest moments beyond the track as well. One of the most challenging events of her life happened in her senior year of high school. She had just moved back to Wichita after living in Texas for 3 years. Now bear in mind that this was already a difficult time for her. She had been pried from her school, her closest friends and an amazing track program. And, just when she was settling back in to Wichita, she lost her cousin to cancer. This is what she was already facing when she received the devastating news; while on her way to her cousin’s funeral she found out that her best friend had been killed in an accident in Texas. He is the person she would have called for comfort in such a situation.
In the months that followed, Christine stopped living. “It was the hardest most depressing time of my life. I even decided not to go to prom,” she reports. She had been patient with God for long enough; after moving 4 times in as many years she had not complained once. And now, in a particularly difficult year, she had lost one of the people who kept her centered. And so her faith in God was really shaken. She became angry at God. She spent days wishing she could go back in time. Stay in Texas. Stop Byron from getting into that car… Then one day she had a dream about Byron. In the dream he told her, ‘Christine, I love you but you’ve got to live your life. You’ve got to keep moving forward.’ That was the turning point for her. As hard as it was, she came to accept that God needed Byron more than she did. She came to see that the best way to honor her best friend’s memory was to live her life, experience every moment and treasure every friendship. So she started by going to prom.
The journey was not easy and she could not have done it alone. She is grateful for her cousin Alissa Sheppard, who inspired her to attend college. She is also grateful for Principle Sherman Padgett, who never gave up on her. “He barely knew me, but he believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself,” Christine says. His belief in her motivated her to start fighting once more. “I wanted to make him proud!” she says. So she started running a better race, and caught the attention of many college recruiters. It was during this time she began to find her strength in God and Philippians 4.13 became her mantra.
When she came to SC, she was still shy and withdrawn. She only hung out with her cousins, Alissa and Avery Sheppard. “I always felt alone in a crowd,” she recalls. But her involvement in track and SC cheer started to get her out of her shell. And the relationships she formed helped her cope when challenges arose. She remembers having a serious financial setback in her sophomore year of college. “I cried everyday. And I was convinced I was going home.” But Dawn Pleas-Bailey stepped in and made Christine realize “that sometimes you need to back up a little, run, leap and get over the mountain.” And that is exactly what Christine did. And beyond that mountain was the best track season of her life! In her junior year, she was named the Indoor Athlete of the Year. Looking back, the advice Christine would give to her past self is “Hold on you’re gonna make it!”
Now, at the start of her senior year, Christine is grateful that God has brought her this far. “I’ve come a long way from being shy; and not talking to anybody freshman year.” In addition to running track, being a cheerleader and serving on the Diversity Council and STUFU, Christine is the president of Sister-to-Sister. This new organization is designed to empower women; and Christine and her team have an amazing vision for the program: “In the past, we were known as SAAS and our focus was minority women. But Sister-to-Sister is open to women of every ethnicity. We want women to unite as one for a common goal,” she says. “Every woman should know that success is within her reach. She doesn’t have to be a stay at home mom. She can dream big. She can have her own business. She can be somebody. The sky is the limit!” That’s not a message that should be restricted by race or age or financial standing.
Already Christine is passing on her “I can do it” attitude to the women around her, myself included. As I walk away from our interview I clear my mind of past failures; and force myself into the present. I have new-found confidence in what I can do. The recipe for winning is clear in my head:
- I need to be present, and experience every moment of the race.
- I need to stay strong when the going gets tough.
I understand now that winning isn’t about running a perfect, challenge-free race. It’s about fighting to the finish. At last, I have come to see first-hand what Denis Waitley meant when he said “Losers live in the past. Winners learn from the past and enjoy working in the present toward the future.”