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Olympic Gold Medalist Tells Students To Put Jesus First

Long before she won Olympic gold medals, champion Sydney McLaughlin was winning races on the athletic field behind her at Union Catholic Regional High School. (Photo: Paula Katinas)

Sydney McLaughlin: ‘Track and medals are just a byproduct of being obedient’

SCOTCH PLAINS, N.J. — Sydney McLaughlin was a two-time track and field gold medalist at the Tokyo Olympics this past summer, but she’s quick to point out that the gilded honors aren’t hers alone.

McLaughlin, 22, won gold in the 400-meter hurdles event and was a member of the U.S. women’s team that earned gold in the 4-by-100 meter relay race.

“I think the first thing is understanding that everything that I’ve been given is a gift from God and it’s not my own,” she said this week during a homecoming ceremony at her alma mater, Union Catholic Regional High School.

The Olympian is an evangelical Christian and a 2017 graduate of Union Catholic Regional, where she was a teenage track star. She returned in triumph to her old high school to accept accolades and to talk to current students about how her faith in Jesus Christ is the guiding force in her life.

I have fond memories of coaching Syd,” said Mike McCabe, the school’s head track and field coach. “She’s smart, she’s kind, and she’s caring.”

While still in high school, McLaughlin competed in her first Olympics, the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. She didn’t medal at those Olympics, but she gained valuable experience, she said. Five years later, she won the two golds in Tokyo and became an international sensation.

But rather than bask in her own glory, McLaughlin used the homecoming as a platform from which she could share God’s glory with her student audience. 

“All of it truly comes back to Him, and it has nothing to do with me,” she said. “Track and medals are just a byproduct of being obedient.”

The ceremony took place in the parking lot next to the school’s athletic field and drew a crowd of hundreds of students eager to meet the Olympic hero who once walked the same hallways and sat in the same classrooms they do now.

“At one point, Syd was you. She was in your shoes,” McCabe told the students.

McLaughlin said the lessons she learned in high school have resonated with her even more in the years since.

She recalled that Sister Percylee Hart, RSM, the school’s principal, told her that by putting one’s faith in the Lord, one finds that God leads them to be the person He wants them to be. 

“I realized that success is not measured by money, or medals, or followers that you may have. True fulfillment comes from obedience to God and boldness and intentionality,” McLaughlin  said.

If McLaughlin intended her words to inspire the students, she succeeded.

“It’s just great to have her as a role model,” said Myles Plummer, a current member of the Union Catholic Regional track team who competes in the 800-meter and mile-long races. “Also, she talks about her faith. I feel that’s a really important part.”

Another track team member, Abby Granath, who runs in the mile and two-mile events, said she was impressed with how well-rounded McLaughlin is as an individual. “She’s an actual person, and she’s not just defined as a runner,” she remarked.

Sister Percylee predicted that McLaughlin will go on to do great things. “What an awesome position you are in to be a power for good,” she said to her now-famous former student.

The homecoming ceremony culminated with McLaughlin and members of the school’s track team entering the gym, where the gold medalist unveiled a new banner bearing her name.