My Life-Changing Encounter with God through Triathlons! By Sue DeJesus

Mark Virkler's picture
Sue has been called by God to be an “Elite Athlete.” She has responded to this call and she shares her adventure and her journaling with us all. Sue was at a recent Hearing God's Voice seminar in Virginia, and I was thrilled to meet her and hear her story. I asked if she would share with us what God has done in her life through the triathlons she has trained for and won. Ten years after its original posting, I am re-publishing this blog with a video insert now included, and an addendum.


If you are reading this blog in an email, click here to watch the video on YouTube.  


My Life-Changing Encounter with God through Triathlons!

This year I am 62 years old and have been racing triathlons since the month before my 50th birthday, the year I completed my first triathlon of the shortest distance called a Sprint triathlon. Twelve years and many races of various distances since, I am ranked 5th in the world by the World Triathlon Corporation at the Half Ironman distance.[1] This distance is a consecutive race of a 1.2 mile swim in a lake, river or ocean, biking 56 miles through the countryside, then immediately running a half marathon of 13.1 miles.

Why do I swim, bike and run? I do it as a means of staying fit and healthy. It gives me a goal to work toward. It gives me motivation to get out of bed when I might be tempted to sleep in, or on days that I don’t especially feel like working out. And most importantly, it’s been approved by God himself.

I am convinced that one of the devil’s prime attacks against mature Christian leaders is in the area of physical health. I have seen gifted leaders taken off the scene due to poor health just when they could be doing the Body of Christ the most good. I am determined to not be one of these casualties. While I am here on earth, I want to be fully available for doing the Lord’s work. I don’t want my body or health to be the limiting factor in how God might choose to use me.

How did I start down this triathlon path as a means to health?

In August of 2001 I was going to turn fifty. I have always been physically active to some degree most of my life, whether it was skiing as a teenager growing up in Minnesota, or lifting weights and doing a little bit of running post college. But 2001 I was going to turn 50 and I wanted to be in the best shape of my life. I knew that most health issues were preventable and I felt a responsibility to take care of my body. I knew that my body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit and I was responsible for this stewardship.

Some decisions are keepers. My decision to get and stay healthy became a permanent part of my focus. There was something that shifted on the inside of me and I began to make choices that made exercise a vital and ongoing part of my life. It is a truth that we will always make room for what is truly important to us. Exercise and good nutrition became a focus that I made room for, even when life was full and making time for exercise was not easy or convenient.

In May of 2001 I became a nutrition speaker for a new business in town called Triathlon Moms. This business was aimed at getting women active by completing their first Sprint triathlon, the shortest of the triathlon distances comprised of a 300 meter pool swim, a 12 mile bike ride, and a 5k run done right after each other.

My role was to teach them about good eating habits. I had not thought much about actually participating myself, but as the first workout drew near I found myself entertaining the thought of it. I decided to start with the group at their first practice. Six-weeks later I completed my first triathlon and thought at the end that there just was not enough oxygen in the air to satisfy my gasping!! I had finished my first triathlon! What an accomplishment! What a great way to usher in my Jubilee birthday!

Once I finished that first triathlon, finishing was no longer good enough. I wanted to win my age group (50-54 at that time)! If I was going to do this, I decided to do it with excellence! I wanted to be the best athlete I could be. In August of 2008 I hired a coach and started to make major gains in my fitness.

I really knew God was in this when He answered a prayer I prayed the morning of 9/26/09. He answered this prayer within the hour! I prayed to have a life changing encounter with Him.

That morning my swim coach said something that started me down the path to the next level in my pursuit of excellent health and fitness, and clearly on my way to encounter God in a way that would radically change me and my life.

This is from my Journal entry dated 9/26/09:

I’m standing on the edge of my swim lane at the outdoor pool, reluctant to get in because I believed that since I’d been off for 2 weeks that I would have a hard time keeping up, that I would be out of breath, that this wasn’t going to be a great feeling workout. Coach Dudley walked past me as I was voicing my concern about being out of the water so many weeks saying, “You’re an elite athlete, you’ll be just fine.”

Totally unexpectedly, the words “elite athlete” captured my ear, and went straight into my heart! It was like my heart absorbed these words and started to mull over them. Startled, my mind began to question these words because I had NEVER thought of myself as an elite athlete. I thought, “Me?” “An elite athlete???”  I know Dudley wasn’t being totally serious, yet still those words rang in my heart as if they were true.

My mind countered, “Well, an elite athlete wins races.” I then heard in my heart, “Not every elite athlete wins their race.” I had to admit that yes, this is true. There are many elite athletes in each race, but only one of them wins first place. I was wonder-struck by my heart grabbing onto these words “Elite Athlete.”

I didn’t know why these words affected me the way they did. I began to think. “As an elite athlete, how would I train? How different would it be from what I do now? How would I think? What would I eat? How would I do my workouts? How would I conduct myself? How would I carry myself?”

I concluded that I would for sure work harder, more intensely; more focused, and be more intentional. I would push myself harder in every way in each workout. I would push myself to the limits. I would be more intentional and precise about everything I did. I would do what I needed to do to be the best me possible. I wouldn’t slack or give up easily. I wouldn’t bail out when it got difficult or I felt tired.

Another thought was that I would really know my sport. I would understand it and how to train for it. Yes, I would do things very differently. I’ve been “playing” at Triathlons because I’m doing this for “health.” If I replay what I’ve been telling myself on different occasions, where I haven’t done a full workout, or I’ve bailed slightly in effort, or not fully followed instructions for a workout, in those moments I’ve actually been telling myself, “I don’t have to push THAT hard, I’m in this for the health benefits.”

I’m thinking about all this during this morning swim. I got to the place where I was feeling tired toward the end of the set and these thoughts came to my mind. “An elite athlete would continue to push, doing their best for the whole set. They would not back off just because they were feeling tired.” I kept pushing. A whole new attitude! (How do you beat a competitor? Be willing to do what your competitor is not willing to do!)

What I find most interesting of all in this is that I have been feeling guilty about the time I am taking to train for Triathlons. I know I’ve been doing it for health and I think that has been my reasoning, but at the same time I have been wondering if my time would be better spent reading or studying the Scriptures more, or praying more. I had been questioning the wisdom of how I was spending my time in light of the Kingdom.

So God takes the very thing that I’m having misgivings about and now gives me “permission” to fully engage in it? I’m in shock. Or maybe it’s awe. This is something totally unexpected. I never thought I’d be thinking these thoughts.

So, Lord, what are you saying to me? What are you giving me the “nod” to do? What are you authorizing? What are you saying about my destiny? –that you’re giving me these surprising new words that have been snagged by my ears, and penetrated my heart—“Elite Athlete.”

Why have you given me these words in seeming answer to my morning prayer?

You’ve asked for a life-changing encounter. If you will embrace these new words, they will indeed change you. Their process will set your life on a course that will accelerate My perfection in you. It is a type of consecration. You won’t neglect Me because I’m IN it! I’m giving you permission to set your eyes on a course that will take you into other realms and dimensions. It’s not the easiest course, just the quickest way for Me to do in you what I want. To do this you will have to come to Me for what you need. I’ll give you understanding, I’ll give you ways to train, I’ll give you motivation, I’ll give you inspiration, I’ll help you do it. In the process we will forge a stronger, better relationship, which is what you really want anyway. This is how I choose to do it.

Will you do it? Will you embrace it? Will you co-labor with Me? Will you give it your whole heart and your whole effort? ~because I’m giving you My “permission” to fully engage in this. Don’t hold anything back. Leave it all on the table. And don’t feel guilty. (Up to now) It’s been a false guilt because you haven’t understood what I have been doing through this venue. Most have not accepted My invitation. If people want to know a “short-cut” this is it. It’s not going to “cost” it will “pay” in huge dividends.

I give you an instruction. You are not to look at the “score card.” You are not to look at your “ranking.” You are only to look at your progress and your heart during each workout. In three years you will not be able to comprehend the distance that I will have taken you. And you will be able to easily say, “It’s all been so worth it.”

By fall of 2012 I had raced on the National Level and started setting my eyes on the longer distance triathlon to qualify for racing at the world level at the Half Ironman distance. I qualified for, and raced at the world level in Las Vegas, Nevada in September 2013 competing against the best in the world!

Have I had a life changing encounter with God? This is a resounding YES! It’s been everything that He said it would be. And YES, it’s been SO worth it.

I encourage each person to find the activity that works for their body and find the nutrition and health practices that God is ordaining for you! You will never regret forging a better relationship with God than through the daily opportunities to bring Him into every health practice and have Him help you make it fit your unique situation. Find out what God is authorizing for you!

Sue DeJesús

God’s Elite Athlete


[1] This is my current ranking. Rankings can change up until the close of the current year as race results are submitted.

Addendum Written 4-18-24

I encourage each person to find the activity that works for their body and find the nutrition and health practices that God is ordaining for you! You will never regret forging a better relationship with God than through the daily opportunities to bring Him into every health practice and have Him help you make it fit your unique situation. Find out what God is authorizing for you!

2024 UPDDATE: I retired from triathlon competition in 2021 after 20 years of racing, and after I became a world champion at the Half Ironman distance (swim 1.2mi/bike 56mi/run 13.1mi), and was the North American Champion at the Full Ironman distance (swim 2.4mi/bike 112-116mi/run 26.2mi). I retired when triathlons had fully given to me, and done in me, all that God had promised!

Go Deeper - Get Healthy!

Check out this entire blog series on Vibrant Health! - Miracles PLUS Gifts of Healings. Working through this series on health is ideal for both individuals and groups. The more we take responsibility for ourselves - spirit, soul and body - the healthier we become! Won't you join me in living to at least 100 in vibrant health?


Related Resources: 

How to Enjoy Vibrant Health!   

Related Blogs: 

Vibrant Health   
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Anonymous's picture

Mark - I enjoy your blog. I read them often but do not respond; but this one has a call to action for me. I have been working towards my goal of getting me health back. You have heard my story in the past - I am the one who had the two spinal surgeries one cervical and one lumbar; and was left paralyzed from the waist down. And three months after the last surgery was diagnosed with cancer. So after reading this blog I am excited about getting my health and nutrition in order as a testimony to the glory of God.

God has raised me up out of the wheelchair and has taken care of the cancer. However the doctors still want to follow me for five years.

I thank God for Sue DeJesús; Lately I have felt really tired of fighting, as I am trying to get my strength back, but now I believe I am going to make it because with God I do not have to fight - He has given us the victory and all I need to do is get close to Him and have a life changing encounter with God, as Sue and so many others have done. Thanks for the encouragement - Dwight.

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