Person of Faith. Margaret Court

images-1In the tennis world Margaret Court was described as ‘dominating.’ She had great athleticism combined with a fierce fitness regime. She won 64 Grand Slam titles (24 singles, 19 doubles, 21 mixed doubles), a record for any male or female player.

US tennis champion and great rival Billie Jean King labeled Margaret ‘the arm’ because of her formidable reach. Her record included the ‘boxed set’ – singles, doubles and mixed doubles victories at all four major tennis championships. In 1960 at the age of 17 she won her first Australian Open. This was the first of seven consecutive Australian titles. Court won the Australian Open 11 times from 12 finals. Across her breath-taking amateur and professional career Margaret registered a 1,180 – 107 win-loss ratio.

She was born Margaret Smith, 16th July, 1942 in Albury, NSW. Her birth was a battle. Her mother almost died and Margaret arrived in a less than healthy condition. The family lived in a modest, two bedroom, asbestos home. Nevertheless the circumstances were not all bad. Divine Providence provided twenty-four grass tennis courts across the road from her home. It was on those courts Margaret spent her childhood energy. Albury tennis coach Wally Rutter encouraged her. He mentioned her talent to Australian legend Frank Sedgman. When Margaret was a 13, Sedgman predicted she could be the first Australian woman to win the championship at Wimbledon. Eight years later her prodigious record began when she won the coveted Wimbledon crown and confirmed his forecast.

Margaret remembers being a childhood ‘tomboy’ and in a neighborhood of young boys she learned to compete. Court does not call her motivation ‘competitiveness’, so much as a commitment to give her best.

When she retired she had no idea of her career statistics. It was left to a British commentator, John Barret, to tally the details. She was the first Australian woman to win Wimbledon. That was 1963. In 1970 she won the Calendar Year Grand Slam (Wimbledon, the Australian, United States and French Opens). In 1975 she was the first mum to be number one in the world. Margaret retired from tennis in 1976. She was inducted into the International Hall of Fame in 1979

Honors

Margaret was the fittest player on the international tour. Under coach Stan Nicholls she took to cardio and circuit training and running sand hills. She was called ‘the Aussie Amazon.’ An International Hall of Fame reports says: “Honors abounded for Court. She was made Member of the Order of the British Empire (1967), inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame (1985), the Australian Tennis Hall of Fame (1993), earned the ITF’s Phillippe Chatrier Award (2006), and was made Officer of the Order of Australia for her services to tennis and community (2007). In January 2014 Show Court One at Melbourne Park, (home to the Australian Open since 1988), was renamed Margaret Court Arena.”

Margaret moved to Perth, West Australia, and was quickly surrounded by a group of friends. Her relationship with husband-to-be Barry Court blossomed and they married. His companionship and support sparked Margaret, she turned professional and the two travelled the world. 1970 turned out to be the greatest year for her. She picked up her ninth Australian Open, her fourth French and Wimbledon was next, so was Billie Jean King. Margaret won a blistering first set 14-12. Barbara Oldfield likened this match to ‘Gunfight at the OK Corral.’ (A Winning Faith – Barbara Oldfield, Sovereign World). Margaret won the second set 11-9 and the Wimbledon championship was again hers. She completed the Grand Slam winning the US Open.

Son Daniel arrived in March 1972. In 1973 Margaret won her 11th Australian Open, and then the French title. Newcomer Chris Evert beat her in a Wimbledon semi final but Margaret immediately bounced back with a win at the US.

During the French Open in 1973 Margaret attended a church service. She began to think about God and what knowing Him really meant. A friend gave her a small book ‘How to Be Born Again.’ Margaret read it over and over. She arrived back in Perth to find another friend Anne had become a ‘born again’ Christian. Margaret marveled at the radiance in her friend. Soon she went to a church meeting with Anne. Margaret responded to the altar call. Barbara Oldfield described that moment. “A struggle of infinite proportions went on inside Margaret that night, for she knew that everyone in that meeting would know who she was if she went forward. She was still the number one tennis player in the world at that time and her pride at that and being a Catholic all her life, almost stopped her from going forward. But she was compelled to go out and give her life to Christ; something she knew she had never done before. It felt as though someone had switched the light on inside. An incredible peace and joy flooded her whole being.” (A Winning Faith, Barbara Oldfield, Sovereign World International) Margaret described this as ‘the greatest day in her whole life.’ Her first daughter Marika was born in 1974. Her third child Teresa came along November, 1977.

 Ministry

imagesAs she sought deeper connections to her faith Margaret was disturbed by a time of ‘inner healing’ which had her more focused on her past than the Lord. At the height of her pain and uncertainty she grasped a bible verse: “If any man is in Christ he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new.” (2 Corinthians chapter 5, verse 17)

A prominent US preacher Fred Price had a profound impact on Barry and Margaret Court and in 1979 she attended a church where the teaching emphasized the bible. She graduated from Bible College in 1983. Barry gave his life to Christ and the time was right for the launch of Margaret Court Ministries Inc. The arrival of daughter Lisa expanded the family to four and they were all part of the Margaret Court outreach. Then came Victory Life Centre. On their website they say: “Her vision was to see the lost, lonely, sick and defeated triumph in life by receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, and to teach them how to implement the faith principles by which they too could live a successful life.

“Facing the challenge of God once again in her life, in June 1995 Victory Life Centre Inc was established. Ps Margaret’s desire for Victory Life Centre is to train an army of strong believers, knowing who they are in Christ and the Christ within, to go and take the nation and the nations for Christ.” Victory Life Centre is described as ‘a church with a purpose’ founded on The Bible as ‘the inspired, authoritative, infallible Word of God.”

Her personal story is available in the new book “Margaret Court – The Autobiography.” Margaret’s other books available, “Winning Life” and her new book “Train Your Brain”.

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In Rio, Pray Wisdom Wins

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The Olympics Games is sold worldwide as the pristine display of sports talent, passion and dedication. Then comes the news the Rio Olympics has already set a new record. 450,000 condoms will be available to Olympians to avoid the sexual transmission of the Zika virus. According to the Age (May 16, 2016) 350,000 male condoms and 100,000 female condoms are available along with 175,000 sachets of lubricant, ‘from free dispensing machines in every Olympic village.’ Two Australian companies are providing extras for the Aussies!

We should never make light of a very serious problem. The Zika virus is deadly and every protection should be considered for the Olympians. Some serious scientists even called for the Olympics to be moved from Rio to escape the disease-carrying mosquito but the forecast of sexual activity must disturb every parent with a child competing.

April 16, 2003 ESPN published an article “Will You Still Medal in the Morning.” (espn.com.au). Author Sam Alipour reported: “Many Olympians, past and present, abide by what Summer Sanders, a swimmer who won two gold medals, a silver and a bronze in Barcelona, calls the second Olympic motto: “What happens in the village stays in the village.” Yet, if you ask enough active and retired athletes often enough to spill their secrets, the village gates will fly open. It quickly becomes clear that, summer or winter, the games go on long after the medal ceremony. “There’s a lot of sex going on,” says women’s soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo, a gold medalist in 2008. How much sex? “I’d say it’s 70 percent to 75 percent of Olympians,” offers world-record-holding swimmer Ryan Lochte, who will be in London for his third Games. “Hey, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.”

Rio Carnivale

A CNN report called the Olympic village ‘The Playing Field.’ They wrote: “”Anyone who wants to be naive and say they don’t know what’s going on in the Village are lying to themselves,” one former gold medalist and veteran of two Olympics told CNN of his previous experiences at the Games. “They know, the officials know, even the media. It’s not a secret, everyone knows!” (The Playing Field, August 12, 2012 CNN. edition.cnn.com)

images-1Rio in just a few weeks, will showcase its Carnivale flair. Street musicians and dancers have been rehearsing for both the opening and closing ceremonies. “Let the Games begin!” will launch a new extravaganza. New champions will be crowned. Losers consoled. Australia helped promote the camaraderie. A young Chinese-Australian John Ian Wing proposed change for the closing ceremony at the Olympics in Melbourne, 1956. In previous Olympiads the opening and closing ceremonies were similar in structure. Wing proposed the athletes be allowed to mingle and mix together in a show of fellowship. That initiative launched in Melbourne has been a memorable highlight ever since and it is a joyous, festive addition.

In the deepest darkness we can be sure light will shine. In London 2012, United States gymnast Gabby Douglas won gold. Then just sixteen Douglas said her faith helped her cope with the pressures of competing on the world stage. “Let all that I am praise the LORD; may I never forget the good things he does for me,” she tweeted after she won the all around gold medal. She was the first African-American to win gold in the all around competition. Former Olympian Dominique Dawes was in tears after the victory. Asked what advice she had for Douglas Dawes said, “Keep God number one in your life….Keep him first and foremost and only be guided by him.”

Eric Liddell

The Eric Liddell story was told in the movie ‘Chariots of Fire.’ In the movie he says, “… I believe God made me for a purpose … He also made me fast. When I run I can feel His pleasure.” The son of missionary parents, he died in a POW camp in 1945.

Allison Felix, the daughter of an ordained minister was an American gold medalist. She won gold and two silver medals at the 2012 Olympics. She also won three world championship gold medals. At the height of her success she said: “For me, my faith is the reason I run. I definitely feel I have this amazing gift that God has blessed me with, and it’s all about using it to the best of my ability.”

UnknownJesse Owens won four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Adolph Hitler staged the event as propaganda venture. Owens said: “Only by God’s grace have I made it to see today and only by God’s grace will I see tomorrow.” His modern counterpart Usain Bolt (pictured) said, “I want to thank GOD for everything he as done for me cause without him none of this would be possible.”

Betty Cuthbert

Years ago as a young enthusiastic WINTV sports commentator I was thrilled to interview, on more than one occasion, Australian track star Betty Cuthbert. In her testimony she wrote: “It’s funny looking back at everything. I was never fanatical about running – never had any heroes or anything – it all just happened.

Eighteen months before the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, I spent most of my savings buying a spectator ticket for myself. I wasn’t expecting to run in those Olympics. I wasn’t even rated in the world’s top 15 in the 100 metres at the beginning of 1956. Then I broke Marjorie Jackson’s world record for the 200 metres.

In Melbourne, aged 18, I won the 100 meters, 200 metres and another gold medal as part of the 4×100 relay team.

One of my favorite verses is Isaiah 40:31, which was given to me by my grandmother just before I ran in Melbourne. “But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will be strong like eagles soaring upward on wings; they will walk and run without getting tired.”

Later Betty developed multiple sclerosis and even then she remained a champion. I love what she wrote: “Many people think that Christians are a bit “loopy.” I don’t mind that but I wish they would take the time to find out what it all means. For me, it means renewing the mind – replacing old values with the concepts of God as revealed in the Bible.”

Well said Betty. When it comes to values, for me ‘the shield of faith’ is the best protection of all.