Elzy Wellings on Tokyo Olympics disappointment: 'You have to trust God'

A few weeks ago, I saw Australian long-distance runner Eloise Wellings run to time qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. She didn’t make the time.

Eloise Wellings courtesy of River Bennett. All rights reserved by River Bennett.

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We all watched on as she pulled up at the finish line. Our hearts dropped.

Eloise Wellings courtesy of River Bennett. All rights reserved by River Bennett.

Image: River Bennett River Bennett

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Her husband Jonathan was the first to get to her. He wrapped his arms around her and spoke into her ear. None of us had the right words – but we all knew he did.

Disappointment is brutal. It’s a silent internal churning machine, mincing all the thoughts and emotions into a splurging mess. Yet Eloise’s disappointment on the outside was flavoured with “It’s ok”, and only a few tears flooding her eyes.

Eloise Wellings courtesy of River Bennett. All rights reserved by River Bennett.

Image: River Bennett River Bennett

“It’s not ‘nothing’ to train like an athlete,” I thought.

It’s not nothing to be a mother of two kids racing against 20 years olds. It’s not nothing to qualify 5 times for 5 different Olympics with a career spanning over 23 years. All the while heading up a foundation in Uganda that invests in assisting tens of thousands of women to become entrepreneurs, women who bring change to their families and communities and villages, and beyond.

It’s not nothing to also invest in Australia’s younger athletes too, and guide them to greatness. It’s not nothing to stand up for justice and truth in the sports arena.

It’s also not nothing to show up and give it another go. And then, just a few, short days after failing to qualify, to say, “Well, what’s next?” and begin to plan the future of her marathon career.

Eloise Wellings – “Elzy” as many Aussies know her – is nothing short of inspiring.

In fact, despite the word ‘inspiring’ having a magnificent literal definition, it sounds too common and ordinary to describe Eloise. Maybe dynamic is a better word. Or zestful, even? Ballsy? Magnetic? 

She is one of those people who can see when you are getting bogged down in life and who will take a shovel, dig it into the soil of your heart, and bring you back to daylight. Her own life seems to give her permission to be someone who digs other people out, allowing them to breathe again and see the opportunities that are available.

Eloise had her son, Sonny, just 20 months ago, and had had limited opportunity to race since then due to COVID lockdowns and event cancellations. So she was realistic about her chances of making the Tokyo Olympics. But realism did not stop her from trying.

“I was really curious to find out what my potential was at this stage of my career. I felt great in training. I felt strong and ready to have a go,” she says.

Eloise is known for her commitment to being fully present, regardless of what race she is competing in.

“I just focus on the process of running, what my body is doing, trying to relax, using my breathing to relax despite the pain and discomfort. Basically, running as fast and as efficiently as I can in the moment,” she explains.

I later asked her how she felt when she pulled up to the line at the Olympics time trial to find she hadn’t qualified for the Tokyo Olympics. 

“I was so disappointed. I’d worked hard and I believed that there was a chance to qualify and that if I ran out of my skin on that night I would run the time,” she said.

Eloise Wellings courtesy of River Bennett. All rights reserved by River Bennett.

Image: River Bennett River Bennett

“Unfortunately those experiences are rare but it’s those experiences that keep you going. There was a moment in the car on the way home when our 8-year-old daughter, Indi, said from the back seat, ‘Hey mum, you did your best, and that’s all anyone expected’. Oof! I let the tears flow for a few minutes longer and then when I turned around, both kids were fast asleep! That was a powerful moment for me.”

Eloise says showing her kids they can do hard things is a huge part of her own motivation.

“One of the big drivers of my running career now is to show to my two kids that they too can do hard things. That by watching me they might learn how to commit to a goal, they would learn to believe for something good and big, they would learn how to fail, how to succeed, how to overcome fear and discouragement and disappointment, how to enjoy the process of aiming high… and through all these things just knowing that they are enough just as they are. That their best will always be enough and even better. That there is grace for their worst days.”

Eloise also shared how she felt as she watched all her teammates boarding the flight to Tokyo.

“I guess a really human response to working really hard for something, and falling short, is a disappointment, but you just have to trust that God has something better. And He always has and always does. I know that many times over,” she said.

“I also think the fact that I really loved the process of coming back from having Sonny, and getting back to professional racing, and getting really fit again helped me deal with the disappointing outcome. The things that I learned about myself in the process of trying are priceless and I know those things will not be lost in the future.”

Knowing Eloise and sharing her experience has added a new dimension to watching the Olympic Games this year for me. Sitting in front of the TV, during lockdown, watching our Australian athletes compete on a world stage, I am acutely aware of the investment each athlete has made to get there. How they have stayed at their post through the pain and discomfort. How they have trained their bodies and their minds.

But the lessons of sport apply to those of us who are not athletes, too.

I truly believe that there is more potential in us than we realise. I believe there is more life ahead for us all.

We can all continue to show up and invest in this gloriously-long journey of life, choosing to endure even when we miss our own qualifying times and gold medal triumphs.

And when we do so, it’s also not nothing. As Eloise said, “The things that we learn in the process of trying are truly priceless … there is always grace even for our worst day.”

Eloise Wellings courtesy of River Bennett. All rights reserved by River Bennett.

Image: River Bennett River Bennett

Eloise Wellings courtesy of River Bennett. All rights reserved by River Bennett.

Image: River Bennett River Bennett

Eloise Wellings courtesy of River Bennett. All rights reserved by River Bennett.

Image: River Bennett River Bennett