Liz Sharp, 70, Monroe, Louisiana
Liz Sharp has always believed in giving second chances, and has witnessed it many times as a personal assistant and administrative consultant with pastors in North Louisiana over the past 32 years. She put that belief into action with her own ministry that has operated a rooming house in Monroe since 1998.
“We help people get a second chance at life,” she says. “We have seven rooms and help whoever God sends over here in need,” adding that this has included elderly people who were abandoned by their families.
The call to serve also includes ten years in uniform with the U.S Army and Reserves, inspired by her father’s career as a fighter pilot. She is proud to have been among first full platoon of women to complete military police school, as well as enduring drill sergeant school at the age of 35.
However, her accomplishments and positive attitude covered the bitter disappointment of a lost chance at an Olympic dream. Liz says she was blessed with “a natural athletic body” and her talent was recognized when she made the track and field team at the University of Illinois. “My coach was Dr. Nell Jackson, who was a member of the USA Olympic Track Team staff. That opened a path to try out for the Olympics.”
Liz became nationally ranked in the high jump and discus and qualified for the U.S. team trials. “My chances were probably very thin, but the dream was alive,” she says. Then, a freak accident happened one day before qualifying events in Colorado Springs. “I was walking across a mall in Denver and hopped over a little hedge. I slipped on the wet grass and landed on my tailbone. I couldn’t speak for 20 minutes because I was in so much pain,” she recalls. “The injury ended my dream right there.”
The dream rekindled four decades later when a former college roommate in Illinois told her about being in Senior Games in 2016. “I learned you had to qualify, and that the Louisiana Senior Olympics were in a few weeks, which didn’t give me much time to prepare. It had been 42 years since I had done anything but my regular weight lifting.” However, she figured her college experience and attention to fitness would help.
“I learned the importance of staying active when I earned my physical education degree,” she explains. “I’m glad I kept up my weightlifting to be able to even try this.”
Liz could not find throwing implements in local stores, and it would take ten days to receive her online order. “So I went to Wal Mart and bought a five pound weight to practice shot put,” she says with a laugh. The implements arrived two days before her competition. “I was nervous about even qualifying, and was shocked when I won all three events for my age.”
Now facing national competition at the 2017 National Senior Games presented by Humana, Liz admits “I really had to beef up my faith” and just hoped to place in one of her events. In Birmingham, she was rewarded with one gold, one silver and one bronze medal. “I couldn’t believe it, I was so happy,” she says.
Liz is thankful for her own second chance at an Olympic dream at the age of 69, and has new goals to set records at National Senior Games and in masters competition. “I have now seen my senior competition, and there is still the fierceness and determination in them that makes me think, ‘Hey, I’m in the right place.’”
“There are dreams that you have when you are young, and I can’t describe the feeling I have getting the opportunity to go back and accomplish this 40 years later,” she adds. “Everyone needs to have the guts to revisit their dreams and see if they are obtainable.”