Ashton Eaton and Brianne Theisen-Eaton: Beyond the medals

Ashton-BrianneThis week we have the incredible honor of inducting two Team World Vision teammates who are also Olympic medalists: Ashton Eaton and Brianne Theisen-Eaton. In the last two weeks in Rio, Brianne took the Bronze medal in the Women’s Heptathlon for Canada, and Ashton took the Gold (for the second year in a row) in the Men’s Decathlon for the United States.

The best part though is that Ashton and Brianne are not only world-class athletes, but are also incredibly dedicated and generous advocates for kids in Africa. 

The couple learned about Team World Vision through U.S. Olympian, Lopez Lomong. After running the Hood to Coast Relay with Team World Vision in 2014 and 2015, they traveled to Kenya to see the impact of the money they helped raise and to meet their sponsored child, Philemon. Even with all of the traveling they do for their sport, this trip was different. “It completely changed who we are and how we approach our life going forward,” said Brianne.

Eatons in KenyaAshton described what he saw in Kenya like this: “If you think about the foundation of competition and what makes it great, [it’s that it] is based on fairness. I’ll use the 100 Meter Dash as an example. We all have to run 100 meters, and you use your abilities and skills and potential to complete that distance as best you can.” But he said what really hit him was this: “People in Kenya have the exact same potential as someone in another situation. The difference was that the setup of the race seemed unfair.” 

It was that observation, in part, that makes Ashton and Brianne so passionate about child sponsorship and being involved in the work that World Vision is doing.

“When you’re young,” said Ashton, “You don’t really understand it. You want to accomplish all of these goals for yourself. But as you get older you realize, ‘I don’t think it’s all about me.’”  

Brianne said it this way: “World Vision has put things into perspective for us. When you’re at the Olympic level, you start to think that winning the Olympic gold medal is all that matters in your life. By going to Africa and working with World Vision and seeing the bigger picture of the world, it brings me back down to earth and makes me super fortunate to be doing what I’m doing.”

And that’s why Ashton and Brianne consider Philemon an extension of their family, and are using their incredible platform in this Olympic games to encourage other people to sponsor children as well. (Sponsor on their behalf here!)

Eatons in Kenya pt2“This is what life is about—making someone else’s life better,” said Ashton. “We have learned and experienced things that will impact our [future] kids’ lives. And because of that, their kids. And [Phil’s] family and his kids. There’s probably not much else you can do in your life that will have that significant effect on the world.” 

Now, after the games, Ashton and Brianne have big plans with Team World Vision. Ashton will be with Team World Vision this weekend for another Hood to Coast event. And in December they will host the first-ever “Legacy Getaway” with Team World Vision’s $10,000 fundraisers. They are also already planning their next trip to Kenya to visit Philemon and his family.

Ashton and Brianne, we could not be more proud to call you teammates and friends. We are inspired by your athletic pursuits, and we are motivated by your sincere and generous hearts for children in need. You are truly creating a legacy that will continue for generations, and we are so thankful for your voices on behalf of the poor. Brianne, HUGE congratulations on your Heptathlon medal. Ashton, HUGE congratulations on your back-to-back golds!

Brianna Hammond: Saying YES to the Unknown

Brianna Hammond“I was at place in my life where I needed to find a purpose outside of myself and my family,” says Brianna Hammond. “And Team World Vision clicked with me. It broke me out of being neutral. I had been living my life in a very safe space because it was comfortable. This made me become more of a risk-taker. I liked what it felt like to stand up for something that was important to me.”

That’s how Brianna, someone who had never been an athlete and didn’t know anything about the clean water crisis, describes her first LA Marathon journey. And it’s why she ran the next year. And the year after that too. It’s why she’s raised almost $30,000 personally, and why she became the captain of her church team that has raised over $250,000.

And even after all that, it’s why this year Brianna ran the 56-mile Comrades Marathon and found sponsors for 86 children. “I needed to take a big risk in my life,” she said, “I’ve never said yes to something I didn’t already know I could do. This was a place I could allow God to show his magnificence and strength in my life. I had to totally give it over to him.” 

So she did. As Brianna covered those 56 miles, she just kept putting one foot in front of the other, praying that God would not take away her pain, but help her endure it. “The children who were sponsored — they don’t get to quit,” she said, “They have to endure things no child should have to endure, no mother should have to endure.”

Brianna victoriously crossed that finish line with just 9 minutes to spare. “It was one of the best days of my life, seeing what God can do when we give him the space in our lives to do it. I had never allowed him to show up in that way.”

Ocean Hills teamNow Brianna is back in LA, ready for more. “I never want to reach my goal,” Brianna said. “If I get close to my goal, it’s going to get bumped up. What do I have to lose? There is always a need for clean water and always more that can be done.” 

She’s also excited to continue to lead her church team and encourage other people to take on big risks of their own.  “I hope there were some people sitting in the audience last year watching it all happen who have the courage to say yes this year. That’s where growth occurs the most, where we risk the most,” she said. “I love seeing the unlikely heroes that emerge because of hearts that are broken for the cause.”

Brianna, what an inspiration you are to our team! Thank you for leading so boldly and faithfully, and for being willing to take risks for the sake of others. And thank you for showing us what can happen when we allow God the space in our lives to show up in big ways. You have given hope and life to hundreds of children and we are so grateful for you.

Amber Walker: 56 miles for 56 lives

Amber WalkerAmber Walker has been dreaming about running the Comrades Marathon (a 56-mile ultra marathon through the hills of South Africa) for four years. After reading about the epic race in a magazine, she knew she wanted to try it even though it seemed out of reach.

But next week, Amber’s dream will come true.“When I found out that Team World Vision had a team, I pretty much jumped up and down,” she said. She’s trained for months, fought through injury, and imagined what it will be like to finally be there. Now it’s time. 

Amber has been running with Team World Vision for seven years in Seattle. “It feels like what I’m supposed to do. God just places things on your heart. I don’t really know why, but I know I’m supposed to keep running.”

But the race is just part of Amber’s story.

Amber has a World Vision sponsored child named Matolase. “She’s close to my own daughter’s age so I always wonder what she’s learning or how she’s doing. I know all of the dangers that she is exposed to and I just can’t help thinking, what if it was my own daughter? I would want someone to help.

And that’s why Amber is looking for sponsors for 56 kids – one for each mile of the 56-mile race. “When I started this I didn’t even think I knew 56 people,” Amber said, who is admittedly quiet and happy to spend time in smaller social circles. 

But Amber is not one to give up on a challenge, especially one so close to her heart. After countless bold asks, Amber has found sponsors for 54 children! That’s 54 children who will now have access to things like clean water, food, education and a future. She’s looking for 2 more sponsors* to reach her goal before she boards her flight, but of course more would be even better, she said.

Amber, you are a force to be reckoned with! Let the children who you serve give you hope and courage as you face those South African hills. Thank you for so boldly advocating on behalf of these kids. We’ll be cheering for you out there!

*Want to help Amber reach her goal? Email teamworldvision@worldvision.org and let us know!