Joel Fearon is running the race set before him – but it certainly has its ups and downs, he says.
A month before Joel Fearon became Britain’s third fastest 100m sprinter, he was ready to give up. The Olympic runner and bobsledder was injured and struggling with the weeks of separation from his young family.
“I didn’t think I could do it anymore and spent hours in the bath praying,” he tells iBelieve. “But the thing that came to me more than once was, ‘If you start something, finish it. Don’t stop halfway through.’ Just weeks later, I was in the newspapers as the third fastest 100m sprinter behind Linford Christie and James Dasaolu.
“It was as wild as it gets and I didn’t see it coming,” he says after achieving his personal best time of 9.96 seconds in 2016.
His whole career has been like this, he says – a story of sporting highs, emotional lows and provision from God beyond his wildest dreams.
It started in 2011 when 20-year-old Joel and his wife Gemima moved to Loughborough. “I used to be in finance, but I got quite good at athletics on the side and Jemima encouraged me to pursue it.
“I had no backing, funding or coach, so I went in faith.” Joel was catapulted into a world of athletics and bobsledding competitions, including the FIBT World Championships in February 2013, the European Championships in January 2014 and the Sochi Olympics in 2014 – where Joel’s four-man team achieved fifth place, before being awarded a bronze medal when two Russian teams were disqualified.
But behind the scenes, Joel struggled with the practicalities of supporting himself and his family.
“I was ranked one of the highest in the world. Sprinters were coming to compete against me with an entourage of coaches, physios, psychiatrists and a whole governing body backing them, but for me, it was just me and my bag.
“Two months after I competed in the Winter Olympics I was delivering pizzas. It was embarrassing, but it was what I had to do.”
God’s provision and his wife’s support saw him through, he says.
“I was flying around the world with my backpack, racing the Jamaicans and the Americans – meeting Usain Bolt and competing against him, and I was just a pizza delivery guy. I put it down to God’s grace.”
God has always provided for his needs, says Joel. “Last year, when the GB bobsleigh team lost its funding, the Swiss team asked Team GB if they could have me on loan for a year to help coach their younger athletes and compete alongside their senior athletes.
“I look at that and think it can only be God, that he has his hand on my life. Before that, I was panicking, trying to control everything, thinking I had to be the man and provide.
“And when my Swiss contract was due to end in March, I was asked if I wanted to fly out to Dubai to work with young people. I was like, ‘Yes!’ The whole journey’s been like that. When things have seemed at their hardest, that’s when some of the most exceptional things have happened. I’ve had to trust that God has a plan for me because I have three young sons now and my whole family is at stake.”
But if ever Joel needs a reminder of all God has helped him achieve, he gets it when he is introduced at an event.
“They introduce me as ‘Joel Fearon Olympic medallist, sub-10 seconds 100m runner, world championships medallist, European medallist’ and it’s such a big title it reminds me how far I’ve come every time.
“I look back and think ‘how did I do that?’ God has always persevered with me and helped me to do things I’d never thought in a million years I was capable of.”