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Nancy Rosebush Schertzing | Photography by Jim Luning | December 2018

Olivia runs toward God and learns to accept his help

People across mid-Michigan are familiar with Olivia Theis thanks to extensive coverage of her athletic achievements as an elite runner for Lansing Catholic High School. The Detroit Athletic Club's 2018 Female Athlete of the Year and winner of the National High School Coaches Association High School Senior Girls’ Cross Country Athlete of the Year, Olivia was the winner of multiple state and regional titles in both cross country and track and was recruited to run at the University of Michigan. Olivia is the daughter of Luann and Dennis Theis.

“My mom says my kindergarten teacher started writing the day’s schedule on the board because of me. Even then, I struggled with control and not knowing what to expect.”

Olivia is comfortable with routines and schedules. This past spring, however, something unexpected happened.

“I went on a mission trip to Alabama, where we worked on houses. The homeowner told us every day, ‘You are such a blessing in my life!’ Her knees are bad, so she can’t get around very well. We all prayed with her every day, and she recently wrote to me and said her knees were much better.

“Seeing how our work changed her life makes me happy. I like volunteering. I feel like I can see God in others who are dedicated to him. They seem happier. Even if they don’t have a lot materially, they have everything. No matter what challenges God puts in their path, they trust that there’s a reason.

“[This experience] taught me God is always there, even when we don’t know what to expect. I think when you’re struggling with something, it’s hard to accept God’s help. But I know the obstacles God put in my life have made me stronger. For example, when I started running, I wanted to get better and thought if I ate healthier I would run faster. I started winning races and getting better times. I remember stepping on the scale and thinking, ‘OK, I lost a little weight. Now I’ll get faster.’

“Until, eventually, I didn’t.

“I didn’t think anything was wrong, but I had developed a condition called orthorexia – categorizing food as either good or bad. Then about five years ago, I was diagnosed with anorexia. I went to a ranch in Arizona, and, with a ton of support from cool people from all over the country, I got better. Even now, food takes up a lot of my thoughts, but not as much as it once did. I think I’m getting a little bit better every day.

“Obviously I wish it hadn’t happened, but I learned a lot more about how to take care of my body. I used to be afraid of everything, and this experience helped me get over my fears. It also helped me get better at accepting God’s help even though it’s hard to admit sometimes that I need it.

“Everything happens for a reason. If someone reads this and feels like they’re struggling with an obstacle in their lives, maybe my story can give them hope and the courage to accept God’s help too.

“To be honest, I need to do more to grow in my faith. I know a lot of people fall away when they don’t have their parents reminding them to pray. I want to join a church in Ann Arbor, maybe continue to do mission trips. Mostly, I will continue to work on accepting God’s help with whatever obstacles he puts in my path.”