Member athletes prepare for Olympics

Robbie Pratt's desire to compete in the Olympics was firmly set in place one day when he was 5 years old.

While walking from a friend's home toward his home, a neighbor said, 'I'll bet you are going to be an athlete like your dad.' "

"Yes," Robbie said, "and I'm going to the Olympics."

Since that day nearly 14 years ago, Robbie, now an elder in the El Paso 5th Ward, El Paso Texas Mount Franklin Stake, has pursued his dream and has been selected to represent Mexico in the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, in the track and field event of pole vaulting. His personal best is 18-feet 4 1/2-inches.

Courtney Johnson, as the youngest of six children of Glen and Joan Young, and wife of Darren Johnson, followed the example of her siblings and began swimming at age 5. As a child she seemed to have inexhaustible energy. Her mother registered her in all sorts of activities, such as youth soccer and gymnastics, in addition to swimming.

She swam on waterpolo teams in high school in Salt Lake City and in college at the University of California at Berkley. Now a member of the Sunnyvale Ward, Los Altos California Stake, she will be among the first women to participate in Olympic waterpolo as a member of the USA Olympic women's waterpolo team.

Robbie and Courtney are among a cadre of athletes from the Church putting the final touches on their game before the Olympics begin in mid-September. Their struggles for excellence are testaments to determination and faith. They are athletes with testimonies who represent the spirit of the games, as well as ambassadors of the Church.

The Olympic games offer them an opportunity to share their testimonies and explain how living the gospel has helped them live life.

"After returning from Sydney, I'll be serving a full-time mission," Robbie tells other youth as a frequent fireside speaker. "I know firsthand the blessings of the priesthood and feel extremely blessed and want to share my talents."

Robbie was born in 1980 to Elbert and Anne Pratt in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where his father was coaching the Saudi Olympic team following his All-American accomplishments at BYU.

Robbie then spent 10 years living in the Church colonies in Mexico where he became proficient in Spanish and the Mexican culture. He possesses a dual citizenship and could have competed for the United States, but chose to represent Mexico where he felt his influence for good would be greater.

He got his first taste of pole vaulting in grade school when his father brought home some old poles and he began jumping in the backyard. He quickly improved his jumps in high school, going from a jump of 10-feet to a jump of 16-feet 6-inches in two years. He broke the district record four times in high school and was a two-time district champion.

His senior year looked promising as he held the prospects of breaking the state high school record and earning a medal in the World Junior Championships.

"But the Lord had a different plan," Robbie said. "Two weeks before the all-important state championships, I became violently ill with a cerebral hemorrhage."

After 10 days of hospitalization and six months of inactivity he returned to competition. "I was terribly discouraged that my season had been curtailed."

Robbie resumed competition, only to strain the rotator cuff in his shoulder. Then, after recuperating, he severely sprained an ankle. "I was disappointed in the results that season, but it only served to increase my determination. But the more I tried to exercise faith in the Lord and listen to the needs of my body, the more opposition came my way. It was a temptation to feel discouraged and use my injuries as an excuse to not qualify for the Games."

Robbie's window of opportunity to participate in the Olympics appeared to be closing. He had only two months to recover, resume training and improve his personal best mark by six inches if he were to be selected.

During this time of aggravation and disappointment, Robbie came to see a correlation between sports and spiritual living.

"I spent a lot of time studying the scriptures in depth which strengthened my faith," he said. "I committed myself to use all my resources and abilities to qualify for Sydney. I knew that if it was the Lord's will, a way would be provided. There seemed to be purpose in the opposition.

"My recovery was miraculous and I was jumping again within a month. Two weeks later I jumped the qualifying height. Then, the politics of the Olympic committee appeared to prevent me from making the team. But many miracles occurred to secure my selection, making me the youngest pole vaulter in the Olympics.

"Without question, I could see the hand of the Lord in the qualifying process. I see now that if I had made the mark without the opposition, it wouldn't have been so meaningful, and I wouldn't have learned of the Lord."

Courtney Johnson draws on her experiences of qualifying for the U.S. Women's Olympic waterpolo team to illustrate the lessons of life. "Training for the Olympics has taken a great deal of personal effort," she tells the youth in firesides. "We can't take the easy route and expect lasting happiness. You cannot improve as a person unless you work for it. Nothing of value comes easily."

Nicknamed "Turbo" by her teammates because of her energy, she tells how her strength comes from eating well and retiring to bed early, not from substances such as caffeine. "I have to read the scriptures, pray and do things that are not popular in order to develop in a way that will lead me home to my Heavenly Father," she said.

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