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Eloise Wellings on track for glory

The Commonwealth Games athlete is running a race much longer than the 10,000m

When Eloise Wellings runs in the Commonwealth Games next month, she knows it’s not a gold medal that will define her.

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“Finding your identity in sport is so dangerous and fickle because that’s what sport is. It can be taken away at any moment and you know most athletes will testify to that,” she tells Eternity.

Wellings knows this better than most. The middle-distance runner was just 16 years old when she qualified for the Sydney Olympics, only to have her dream cut short by a stress fracture to her hip that prevented her from competing in her first Olympic Games.

“Every time I get up to train, I just ask that he be glorified, that he give me the strength to do it.” – Eloise Wellings

She missed both the Athens and the Beijing Olympics too, also because of injury. She’s had 11 stress fractures and battled an eating disorder.

“All of my disappointing results and disappointing injuries and heartbreak missing three Olympics, there was always this belief and faith that my identity is in Jesus and that’s my foundation. When you’ve got that, you can’t be shaken.

“Every time I get up to train, I just ask that he be glorified, that he give me the strength to do it, that he help give me the right thoughts to think – and not necessarily that I win but that he would be made known to people as I run.”

Now a dual-Olympian, Wellings ran a personal best for the 10,000m race at the Rio Olympics in 2016 and says she’s looking to top that at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.

“Last year, at the World Championships, two of my friends …  were able to meet up each day and have a little Bible study and pray together.” – Eloise Wellings

When she sits down with Eternity in her home in Sydney, it’s only a few weeks before the Games begin and Wellings is in the thick of intensive training that she says is “almost sickening”. She’s running more than 140km a week.

“I feel like I’m in great shape and training is going really well. Injury free, thank God, and just really excited about the opportunity to compete in front of a home crowd.”

As she prepares for the Games, Wellings says she can see God at work in the Australian team.

“For probably ten years, I’ve been one of the only openly Christian people on the Australian team. But last year, at the World Championships, two of my friends – one is a high jumper and one is a long jumper – and we were able to meet up each day and have a little Bible study and pray together.”

Wellings said Christians from other countries at the championships came along, too. “Just gathering together in a public space, in our hotel, I think it caused people to ask questions.”

Wellings runs for love. She calls her running career an “expensive hobby.” Now an Athletics Australia-funded athlete, Wellings says she was never in for the money.

“I decided years ago that I would do it as long as I was still enjoying it and still able to do it.”

At 36, she has set her eyes on the marathon for a possible 2020 Olympic bid. “What bigger challenge could there be than the marathon? It seems like this big, mysterious, romantic challenge for me,” she says.

“He said, ‘If I told you my story and where I’ve come from, your foot problem would become very small.’” – Eloise Wellings

Wellings is one for taking up challenges. It’s why she started the Love Mercy Foundation in 2009, which raises funds for impoverished communities in northern Uganda.

After suffering another stress fracture just before the Beijing Olympics, Wellings was invited to Portland in the United States, to use a special treadmill called the “anti-gravity treadmill” to help in her rehabilitation. She stayed in a house for international athletes who visit to use the same facilities. It was there she met Julius Achon, a Ugandan Olympian and former child soldier.

“I was talking to him about how disappointed I was about being injured again, and how many injuries I had had, and how I wasn’t sure whether running was what I was meant to be doing any more. And he said, ‘If I told you my story and where I’ve come from, your foot problem would become very small.’”

At 12 years old, Julius was abducted and forced to fight in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda, a notoriously cruel rebel group. Julius told ABC News that when he escaped the army and made it back to his family, he was encouraged to run as a way of getting a free education. He competed in the Olympics in 1996 and 2000.

When Achon visited his family in Uganda in 2003, he went for a run and discovered 11 orphans sleeping under a bus. They said their parents were dead. He took the children back to his family, who were living in a refugee camp in Lira, in northern Uganda. Achon went back to America and became a professional pacemaker, helping other athletes train. That’s what he was doing when he met Wellings. “He was sending most of his money back to help his family and to help those kids [his family had taken in],” she said.

“It’s such a privilege to be able to use running as a platform to bring light to what we’ve had the opportunity to do in Uganda.” – Eloise Wellings

By the end of her time in Portland, Wellings says she’d made a good friend in Julius. “I didn’t end up making the [Beijing] Olympics, but I just had this feeling that I was [in Portland] for something more. And Julius invited us to his wedding in Uganda a few months later.”

Wellings went to Uganda for the first time and saw what she says was the “devastation and struggle that people had been through during the civil war. And we wanted to help Julius with a vision he had to start some community development projects to help people get back on their feet.”

That’s how the Love Mercy Foundation was formed. Wellings went back to Australia and began talking about what she’d seen, and about Achon’s story. The foundation has built a health centre and funded more than 10,000 small seed loans to northern Ugandan women.

“I couldn’t have told you where Uganda was on a map before I went to Portland [and met Julius],” says Wellings.

“It’s such a privilege to be able to use running as a platform to bring light to what we’ve had the opportunity to do in Uganda.”

As in her running, Wellings is determined to “give it everything I’ve got” when it comes to her foundation. And, she says, she won’t be able to run forever.

“You can’t put your hope in sport … But when I look back at what God has done in my running career and using it as a platform for Love Mercy, I’m so humbled.”

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