If you meet Nichole Jones on the starting line she’ll probably smile at you, but then when the gun goes off, she’ll leave you in the dust. Don’t take it personally, though; she does that to everyone. “We call her the Smiling Assassin,” says Todd Harbour, Baylor’s head track/cross country coach. “She’ll smile at you and then just beat you bad.”
This 5’2”speedster is a quiet giant, both athletically and spiritually, who’d rather show you what she’s about than tell you. She won more All-America and Big 12 honors as a freshman than most runners win in their entire careers, and also broke four school records (800-meter, 1,000-meter, 4x800-meter relay and Distance Medley relay).
IN HER OWN WORDS
How I usually warm up for a race:
“From start to finish the whole process takes about 45 minutes. I do a 10- to 15-minute light jog, stretch, some drills, and I stay hydrated throughout the whole process. I do some quick turnover, fast-feet stuff and then just kind of relax at the end of all that—just clear my mind and stay relaxed.”
What goes through my head when I’m at the starting line:
“I have tunnel vision when it comes to racing. Everything is in mono thoughts. For example, when I’m on the line, I’m usually kind of spacing out. I notice the smallest things, like someone’s hair tie or someone’s shoes.
“I do my ritual where I get a little shaky, and then I pray in the Spirit. The most wonderful feeling I have is being on that line and having the peace that surpasses all human understanding and
knowing that the race is going to turn out fine.”
My biggest thrill when I run:
“It’s knowing that I listen to Him while I run, and I find peace. There are little things [I listen for], like when I should tuck back on a turn, and then when I come off the turn, knowing right when to go. Those are the kind of things I listen for.”
How many miles I run per week during training:
“It ranges between 55 and 60 miles.”
My favorite pre-race and post-race snacks:
“Pre-race would be Quaker Rice Cakes (apple cinnamon) with some organic peanut butter and, like, half of a banana. And post-race is just kind of whatever I feel like. I can eat pizza after
my race—pizza or pasta. I could even eat pancakes, it doesn’t matter.”
But more than the awards, Jones races to let her light shine before men that they see God’s goodness in her and praise Him for it (Matthew 5:16). As a leader for the team Bible study and an FCA attendee, Jones takes more pleasure in seeing others come to know Christ than in winning medals.
Yes, this Jones may try and defeat challengers on the track, but through her joyful faith, she is begging everyone to keep up.
The sport wasn’t always the natural fit for Jones that it is today. Trying to find her athletic niche early, she attempted to join the middle school volleyball team and was cut. Then, although she’d made the basketball team, her coach instructed her to not move once she was on the court so that she wouldn’t mess up. She defaulted to running the summer before her seventh grade year simply because, as she put it, “running doesn’t require a lot of coordination.”
Jones remembers getting beaten pretty badly in her first few years as a runner. She ran the two-mile race one year and got lapped twice. But she improved with practice, and the following year in the same race, she only got lapped once. The next year she kept pace with the pack and didn’t get lapped at all.
Even with the rocky start, her God-given talent was evident. At age 15 she, along with her mother and hundreds of marathon-crazed Houstonians, visited a two-day expo before the Houston Marathon/Aramco Half Marathon. Jones figured she was only going to shop; but after getting caught up in the excitement of the event, she decided to sign up for the half marathon—a distance six
miles longer than she’d ever run.
“That race in particular was spur-of-the-moment, a new challenge for me,” recalled Jones. “I didn’t look at it as anything more than that, just strictly fun.” But in Jones’ terms, “strictly fun” means running 13.1 miles at a 6:16 minute-per-mile pace. She finished the race in 1:21:34 and took 15th place out of 3,630 women, 90th of 6,732 finishers overall.
“There are some really good young ladies who can jump in and do things like that, so it’s not totally out of the ordinary, but it’s definitely rare,” confirmed Harbour, who, from his college days at Baylor, still holds the fastest mile time (3.50.34) ever run by a collegiate athlete. “She’s a tremendous competitor, and wants to win; yet she’s always got a smile on her face.”
Outside of The Smiling Assassin, Jones also has been dubbed Smiley and Sunshine. Can you see a theme? “We may call her Smiley,” said Harbour, “but when she gets on the track, it doesn’t matter if you’re the Big 12 champion or record holder; she’s not intimidated by anybody or anything.”
It’s obvious to Harbour that Jones’ confidence is rooted in Christ, not in her speed or endurance. “There’s nothing you could put past her, because she’s got tremendous faith,” he said. “That faith is what she walks in daily.”
This year, after a challenge from Harbour, Jones began further enhancing her faith by memorizing entire chapters of the Bible. “The purpose was really to get the Word of God in my heart,” she said. “[Coach Harbour] explained that when it’s in my heart, there’ll be a time it will arise because I’ll need to share it with someone else; or just for encouragement in my spirit.”
|Nichole Jones: 2007 Accomplishments|
• 2007 All-American Outdoors (800 Meters)
• 2007 All-American Indoors (Distance Medley
• 2007 Big 12 Outdoor Freshman of the Year
• 2007 Big 12 Indoor Freshman of the Year
• 2007 All-Midwest Region (800 Meters)
• 2007 Big 12 Outdoor Champion (800 Meters)
• 2007 Big 12 Indoor Champion (1,000 Meters)
• 2007 All-Big 12 Indoors (Distance Medley Relay)
• School Record Holder (800 Meters) – 2:04.69
• School Record Holder (1,000 Meters) – 2:45.68
• School Record Holder (4x800-Meter Relay) –
• School Record Holder (Distance Medley Relay) –
Jones also knows that God wants to do amazing things on the Baylor cross country team this year, and she is excited to be a part of it. That’s her personal reason for always smiling. “One of my favorite Scriptures is ‘the joy of the Lord is my strength’ (Nehemiah 8:10). That’s where it comes from. I just have so much to be happy about. I’m so grateful to be here; it definitely took a lot of work.”
Her school records and All-America honors were obvious results of those efforts. But what sets Jones even further apart from her peers is the fact that she did it all with one less year of experience and age than anyone else.
Knowing that Baylor was where she wanted to be, Jones spontaneously decided to graduate high school a year early, forego her senior season and compete with Baylor. She completed exhaustive online summer courses to graduate—an entire year of high school crammed into a few weeks’ time. During these weeks she read six text books cover to cover, sometimes sitting down with her books for eight to 10 hours a day.
“Looking back I can confidently say that the whole process was a complete step of faith, because I didn’t know what to expect,” recalled Jones. “I just had an eminent feeling that this was something I should do. He gives me confidence.”
With that confidence, Jones desires only to show that her victories are His blessings. “When I accomplish great things I want people to look at me and be amazed not by what I’ve done, but what He’s done in me.
“You can train the body, but how unproductive it would be for me to just go through college and train only that aspect of my life,” she continued. “I need the spiritual training because I’m running for a purpose. I’m not just running to be a great runner; I’m running to be a witness for God.”
After being on staff with FCA at the University of Texas for eight years, FCA Area Director Ben Johnson and his wife, Kathrine, relocated to Waco in order to work with Baylor’s FCA. Almost immediately Johnson connected with Coach Harbour and asked him to be a part of the Huddle. Harbour, who had been involved with FCA during his college and professional running careers, enthusiastically accepted the role.
“Coach Harbour is excited about the discipleship aspect of the Huddle,” said Johnson, “and he wants to help with the leadership meetings as far as teaching, evangelism, discipleship, prayer and Bible
study. They’ve been doing that on the track team already and FCA’s just going to be another piece of that for him.”
Added Harbour, “I think FCA is one of the best vehicles out there. Young people feel comfortable coming to FCA, and they know that it’s a place where, if they’re seeking to have an opportunity to meet the Lord Jesus, they’ll have a chance to do that. I don’t think there’s another organization that has the opportunities to reach so many student-athletes.”
*For more *For more stories about faith and sport, visit www.sharingthevictory.com, the official magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Photos courtesy of Baylor University