Faith that Conquers: The making of a champion

by Kelly Mescher Collins | August 18, 2021

Kelly Mescher Collins

Growing up on a farm, my siblings were (and still are!) my closest friends. We didn’t get off the farm much, and often had to entertain ourselves by using our imagination.

This always seemed to involve dramatic tales of chase and narrowly escaping the “bad guys.” Sometimes these adventures occurred on parallel rows of large, round bales of straw. We’d help each other scramble up top before leaping and sprinting an hour away. Or we’d climb the ladder into the barn’s hay loft, jumping and crawling through a mazer of bales while images of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom flashed through my mind. Sometimes my younger brother Nick and I pretended to be our favorite cartoon heroes – I was She-Ra: Princess of Power and he was He-Man. (Though he claims he doesn’t remember that.)

We lived on a gravel road near the West Nishnabotna River, another favorite spot for adventure.

It was a combination of imagination and a real life encounter that inspired my sister Jody and I to pen a letter, put it in a bottle and send it down the Nishnabotna as kids. I probably thought we’d get a response in the mail in short order from someone in Thailand, or maybe even Australia, where my Mom’s pen pal was from. (She even came out to the farm to visit us.)

 But days and weeks and eventually years went by with no response. At least until 2010, when a guy about our age found the bottle on his rural property in our very own Diocese of Des Moines near Malvern. We’ve now been Facebook friends for years. (There were even stories in the Omaha World Herald and Carroll Daily Times Herald.)

We enjoyed meeting my Mom’s Australian pen pal, and enjoyed meeting the finder of our message in a bottle, who read our letter asking: “Need a friend?”

I reflect on how as kids we seemed to know something we busy adults too easily forget – the value of friendships; the importance of community. It’s undoubtedly been friends, family, co-workers and community that helped you through this past 18 months (and beyond.)

For those feeling isolated or alone, grand gestures are not required. A phone call, a letter or a short visit (when possible) have tremendous impacts on those in need of positive, human interaction. And lest we forget – we all need positive, human interaction. It’s natural, normal and even vital – the way God created you. God did not design us to go it alone.

In Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for Trust, Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, social scientist Brene Brown writes: “Research shows that playing cards once a week or meeting friends every Wednesday night at Starbucks adds as many years to our lives as taking beta blockers or quitting a pack-a-day smoking habit.” 

Unfortunately, we live in an increasingly self-focused, digitally immersed world.

Some see needing others as weakness. But no – it’s by God’s perfect design.

Studies have shown post-war soldiers and firefighters with post-traumatic stress disorder show the mere presence of a spouse, family member or friend helped reduce intrusive thoughts and other negative effects. In fact, just knowing they had someone they could rely on or call improved their mental health.

Reflecting on my own life, the challenges I overcame or accomplishments I achieved were often because others encouraged me or walked by my side.

In 2018, I decided that if I was ever going to run a marathon, now was as good a time as any. (I had been a runner for nearly 20 years and I certainly wasn’t getting any younger.) When my husband asked me what he could do to help, I asked him to join me on his bike for my very long training. I fully admit I never would have completed two marathons without him by my side. And I made it to the finish line without him on race day thanks to two new friends I made during the race. My times were far from stellar, but it didn’t matter. I finished. And they helped me achieve something I always wanted to do.

And it’s not just me. Even some of the greatest – Olympic athletes - point to friends, who are also teammates and coaches, as a formula for success. Dowling Catholic alum Karissa Schweizer is one of them.

She credited friend, training partner and fellow Iowan,  Shelby Houlian, for challenging her physically but also mentally, blowing open ideas about speeds they could achieve.

U.S. hurdlers Sydney McLaughlin and Dalilah Muhammad have been breaking each other’s records for years, pushing each other to be better. In fact, Olympic track and field commentators frequently cited Proverbs 27:17: “Iron sharpens iron.”

McLaughlin, a 2017 graduate of Union Catholic Regional High School in New Jersey, took home the gold – the youngest in this event. Her community back home, including Union Catholic Principal, Sister Percylee, were cheering her on from a tavern in New Jersey.

Stories were abound during this year’s Olympics of athletes pointing to their support system, and community, insisting they never would have achieved these goals without their love and support.  

And if that’s good enough for them, it’s certainly good enough for me – without shame.