Faith keeps Missouri track and field athlete moving forward

Wednesday, April 28, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT
Lana Mims, a sprinter and long jumper for the Missouri track and field team, is the daughter of three-time Olympian runner Madeline Manning Mims, who now serves as an Olympic chaplain.

COLUMBIA — For a little girl whose mother is an Olympian, it is easy to dream big. For a homeless girl dwelling in a small Venezuelan village, it is hard to dream at all.

Lana Mims, a sprinter and long jumper for the Missouri track and field team, is the daughter of three-time Olympian runner Madeline Manning Mims.

In the 1968 Games, Madeline Manning Mims became the first black women to win a distance race with a gold medal in the 800-meter run. She won the race by more than 10 meters to set an Olympic record. She also earned a silver medal as part of the 4x400-meter relay at the 1972 Olympics then competed again in the 1976 Games. In 1980, at the age of 32, she won the U.S. Olympic Trials, but the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Games kept her out of her fourth Olympics. In 1984, she was inducted into the United States National Track and Field Hall of Fame.

Lana Mims was raised in a family that believed dreams could come true through God. Already living an active lifestyle physically through running, Mims opened her arms wide and began living an active lifestyle spiritually.

Lana Mims did missionary work, first traveling to Suriname with her mother and a church group from Cambria Heights, New York when she was 11. The Pastor of the Revealed Word Christian Center invited Mims’ mother, who is also a gospel singer, to join him after hearing her album titled “Running For Jesus.”

Singing was something Pastor Tony Fontanelle had in common with Mims’ mother. More importantly, he was also an athlete, competing as a cyclist in Guyana. They bonded and have used sports as a means to spread their faith for 27 years.

“My mom brought me because at that time I was still playing basketball, volleyball and rhythmic gymnastics,” said Lana Mims, who now competes in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter dashes, 4x400-meter relay and the long jump for the Tigers. “The first time we did a mission trip we incorporated a sports camp into it.”

Lana Mims learned to use sports as a vehicle to bridge communication gaps since neither she or her mother speaks fluent Spanish. During a mission trip to Venezuela, the bus that was scheduled to pick up her and the church group from the airport broke down.

Thirteen-year old Lana Mims was the youngest member on the trip. The group was stranded outside of the airport in the waiting area with nothing but the blue sky and hot sun above them. She noticed two homeless children standing nearby and started talking to them. She joined them, coloring books in one hand and her rhythmic gymnastics hoop in the other. Her effort to play with them went further than she ever knew.

“I thought to myself, no one ever does anything with them,” Lana Mims said. “We shared some snacks my mom had given me and we ate together. I ended up sharing the gospel and my message with them, but at the same time I was just talking to them. At the time it didn’t seem like a big deal, it was just like me hanging out with kids, but as I got older I realized how cool that was. I wish I could have those experiences more often.”

Witnessing poverty and heartbreak first hand, Lana Mims’ faith strengthened and she made it a priority to love everybody around her.

“I absolutely love traveling and ministering,” Lana Mims said. “I thought about joining the Peace Corps. I have to do something. Let me build this, help them, pray for you. That is my dream.”

Her missionary work extends far past playing catch and kicking a soccer ball. On her trips, the missionaries brought the run-down streets to life with singing, dancing and street ministry. Skits and dramas transformed the dirt roads and shabby town squares into the heart of the village pulsing with excitement and entertainment.

One December Lana Mims and the other missionaries loaded a truck with toys. They spread Christmas cheer to rundown areas of cities by parking the car and showering children with toys as they threw presents from the truck. When every child had a toy they sped off to the next location and played Santa until all of the toys were given away.

“I went to a wealthy high school and felt like I had less than the people around me,” Lana Mims said. “Now I know there are people who have less than me. You realize how big the world is and how blessed you are to have what you have. There are so many amazing people out there who have nothing and are happy. I want to let them know they are loved and give them hope.”

Lana Mims also helped build a foundation for a house with Habitat for Humanity in Belize.

Throughout her travels to Belize, Guyana, Venezuela and Surinam, Lana Mims realized kindness and faith have the power to bring people together. She safeguarded that knowledge, bringing it back to Missouri with her.

Her favorite part about running the 4x400-meter relay is the fact that it’s a team effort that brings everyone together. She is passionate about her races and events and loves her teammates. Her enthusiasm shines. For Lana Mims, sports and faith intertwine to form a deeper understanding of who she is.

“I’m not just trying to impress my coaches or my parents or trying to do it for myself,” Lana Mims said. “There’s a purpose in my life, and there’s something bigger than me that I’m trying to accomplish.”

Faith is the cornerstone of Lana Mims’ identity. Her mother has served as an Olympic chaplain and is working to make sports chaplaincy a profession. But her mother is also an inspiration. Lana Mims, a three-time All-Big 12 athlete who was named the women’s Most Outstanding Athlete at the Tom Botts Invitational this year, dreams of competing in the Olympics like her mother did.

“I coached her from the time she was nine through high school,” her mother said. “I’m aware of her potential. Both of us are very competitive and we use that to encourage each other, but she’s quite herself.  She is a unique individual with a lot of talent. I support her and encourage her, but always let her set her own goals and strive for her own dreams. Yes, I give her advice, but I’m just Mommy.”

Mims and her mother share a passion for track, but it is their underlying beliefs that form the base of their relationship. Mims’ mother inspires her, but it is her religion that motivates her to do her best.

“I can tell she has so much faith in me,” Lana Mims said. “She pushes me and still lets me make my own decisions. She tries to guide me. The most valuable thing that my mom has taught me is to put God first and everything else will fall into place.”

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