April 2011 The Return of a Dream

It’s easy to see why emerging NCAA track star Lana Mims has Olympic aspirations.

The University of Missouri senior is the daughter of legendary four-time Olympian Madeline Manning Mims, the younger sister of former University of Oklahoma triple-jump champion John Jackson, and has dreamed of competing on the world’s greatest stage since she was a kid. But it was a dream that appeared destined to fall by the wayside, snuffed out by unexpected adversity, after Mims came to Mizzou in the fall of 2006.

•••••


Lana Mims

Hometown: Tulsa, Okla.
Birthdate: Oct. 27, 1987
Year: Senior
Events: Jumps; Sprints
Highlights:
 • Five-time All-Big 12
 • Member of the school-record-setting
    4x400m relay team

3 of Mims’ Favorite Things:
 • Christian rapper LeCrae: “I love him! I
     love his delivery and what he talks 
     about.”
 • Pandora’s Christian music station
 • Our Daily Bread devotionals

She arrived on campus full of optimism as a young Tiger. But during her freshman year, Mims developed a dangerous heart arrhythmia that required her to have a corrective heart procedure in 2007. When the operation turned out unsuccessful, Mims was left ill and suffering severe migraines. By her junior year Mims appeared to be on the mend, but her optimism would prove to be short-lived.

“I had finally started blossoming again that year,” said Mims, now a senior. “But, at the end of the year at regionals, my heart acted up again, and I messed up our team relays. I was crushed.” The condition was one that put the young athlete in danger during competition. Mims’ mother even recalls one frightening occasion in which she watched her daughter black out during a long jump.

“She had a good run on, and even the way she hit the board, she was getting ready to put one out there,” Madeline said. “Then, in midair, she stopped and came straight down and sat there for a while. It virtually put my heart in my mouth.”

The problems in her heart were electrical in nature. Mims was born with an extra electrical node—or switch—and the two were short-circuiting each other and firing signals at the same time, causing her heart rate to reach dangerous levels. Her heart also pumped blood too quickly and gave her a tightening feeling in her chest. When that happened, the strength drained from her body from lack of oxygen.

In order to correct the problem and keep competing, Mims was forced to have the heart procedure again, this time in the summer of 2009. Thankfully, Mims had a positive support system.

“If it were any other school, my scholarship probably would have been taken away,” she said, citing the favor she’s received from Mizzou. “I know I’ve been blessed to be at the University of Missouri.” Looking back on the process, Mims says she recognizes that it was the Lord who brought her to MU in His divine way.

After making a verbal commitment to one Big 12 school as a highschooler, Mims was forced to look elsewhere when circumstances changed in their athletic department. She also was recruited by an SEC powerhouse, but when they lost one of their sprinters, they informed Mims that they were going in another direction. Still another SEC school pursuing Mims ran out of money before they locked her in.

“So many doors just slammed shut,” she said.

By some small miracle, however, Missouri’s track coach had kept a scholarship available for Mims even after she’d turned them down. Running out of options, it was an offer she was willing to consider.

Soon, the Tulsa, Okla., native found herself accepting the scholarship to Missouri and moving to a place she’d never expected. But, as it turned out, Mizzou was the perfect location for Mims to weather the storm of hardship.

“They really embraced me and believed in me,” said Mims, now a five-time All-Big 12 honoree. “Now I can look back and see more clearly that God had a reason for bringing me here.”

•••••

After the second heart procedure proved successful, Mims began a courageous comeback.

In 2010, her true senior year, she qualified for outdoor first-round nationals and set a PR in the long jump (20’7”). A member of the school-record-holding 4x400m relay team, she also started dusting the competition during her individual sprints, setting PRs in the 200-and 400-meters.

For Mims, the dream she’d started to give up on just a few years earlier was beginning to bloom once more.

“I believe the devil was trying to take away Lana’s gift because of the souls who may come to Christ through her,” Madeline said. “She has a heart for missions, and she loves people, and that’s the love of God flowing through her. Her name, Lana Cherelle, actually means light and love—the nurturing love of God. That’s what she has shown since she was little, and I saw the enemy trying to destroy that. I’m so happy that things have turned around for her and that she’s got her dream back.”

•••••

Growing up under the tutelage of an Olympian gave the younger Mims a unique pedigree. In 1968, her mom won a gold medal at the Games with a record-breaking performance in the 800-meters, and in 1972 earned a silver medal with the U.S. 4x400-meter relay team.

“My mom has been to the Olympics four times, so she knows what she’s talking about,” Mims said proudly. “It’s great to share a passion for a sport with her. Sometimes I’ll say, ‘Mom, it felt just like this,’ and she knows exactly what I’m talking about. It’s fun having both the nurturing side of my mom as well as the competitive side. My dad was a karate champ in Ohio, too, so I am blessed with athletic ability from both sides.”

 
Mims with fellow members of the Mizzou FCA Huddle

Mims learned additional lessons about what it meant to be a true competitor from her brother, who helped Madeline coach Mims in high school. Under their direction, Mims turned in three state championships.

“Their main thing has always been to do whatever you do to the best of your ability,” Mims said. “Don’t be afraid to fail; don’t be afraid to be great. Seeing how well they’ve both done, I’ve always looked up to them. They understand my competitiveness and the situations I’ve been in, but they aren’t pushy and don’t make me feel like I’ve failed in any way.”

•••••

Throughout the twists and turns of her college career, Mims’ main source of strength has been her relationship with Christ. As an athlete at Mizzou, she has played a key role in the school’s FCA Huddle, which has grown from 20 students her freshman year to its current 100 participants.

“She has a truly joyful spirit that comes from her hope in Christ,” said FCA Campus Director Dustin Shryock. “She’s an extremely positive, happy person. She facilitates conversation well, especially with new people, and she has one of those personalities that makes everyone love her.”

According to Shryock, Mims is one of the few athletes who has approached him about sharing her testimony at the Huddle.

“As a ministry leader, I pray for things like that to happen,” he said. “In one of our meetings, I talked about how God uses different things in our lives for good, and how those times solidify our faith. She came up afterward and said she’d never given her testimony before, but that God was doing some things in her life that she wanted to share.”

Mims’ willingness to be transparent with the Huddle had an immediate impact. After she gave her testimony, other athletes were inspired to do the same. Several approached Shryock that night and asked if they could speak to the group at future meetings.

“Lana was a great example,” he said. “She showed them that you don’t have to have a perfect testimony written out; you just have to be willing to tell others where you’re at and what God is doing in your life.”

As much as Shryock has enjoyed the momentum of the Huddle, Mims has been equally as enthusiastic about what God is doing at Mizzou. Through the group’s camaraderie and encouragement, she has seen athletes become bolder in sharing their faith through both words and actions.

 “[Lana] showed them that you don’t have to have a perfect testimony written out; you just have to be willing to tell others where you’re at and what God’s doing in your life.”
 – FCA Campus Director Dustin Shryock

“The fellowship with other athletes who are giving glory to God and exhibiting fruits of His Spirit has helped our outward ministry,” she said. “For some people it’s hard to open up to others, but FCA does a great job of giving practical tips on how to live the life of a Christian athlete. That’s been a big asset for us as a group—knowing day-to-day that actions speak louder than words. You don’t have to beat someone over the head with a Bible; you just have to share your story, what you’ve been through, and how your faith has contributed to it. I feel like that has been one of the biggest helps of the FCA ministry.”

•••••

This December, Mims graduated with a general studies degree comprised of three components: engineering, biology and wildlife sciences. But before she officially moves on, she will run one more season for the Tigers. After that, it’s on to pursuing that global dream.

“After college, my dream is to go to the Olympics,” she said. “I lost that dream after my heart procedure—just being sick and not being able to perform how I wanted to—but I’m getting back on path, getting healthy from the inside out. I still really want to go for it in 2012.”

Those around her couldn’t be more pleased by her aspirations—especially her mom.

“Out of all of us, she’s the most athletically gifted in our family,” Madeline said proudly. “In my opinion, she hasn’t even come close to cresting in her athletic ability in the sport of track and field.”

If that’s true, then the return of this dream will certainly manifest into divine reality—both on and off the track.

--For more stories about faith and sport, visit www.sharingthevictory.com, the official magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. To subscribe to STV, click here.

Courtesy of Dustin Shryock; Madeline Manning Mims; Mizzou Athletic Media Relations