a christian perspective on the world today

Moesha Johnson’s Olympic Miracle

In the choppy waters of Port Doha, Qatar, things weren’t looking good. Moesha was midway through a 10-kilometre open water race in the World Championships. This was her chance to qualify for the Olympics. But she was trailing behind a pack of 30 girls and had been for much of the race. “I remember thinking, this should not feel so hard this early on.” In the final kilometre, she got a burst of energy and surged into the lead. The desperation of people to get to the Olympics is something she had never experienced to this degree. “It was like death row stuff for some athletes.” By the end of the race, Moesha placed fourth, qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics, leaving even her coach speechless. 

rewinding to the start

Growing up, Moesha’s aunty and uncle owned a swim centre that her mum worked at. Moesha would go along with her mum every day and formed a love for the water that remains today. “I love swimming because I love the water. I love how it feels, how it looks, I love how it challenges me. I love the silence it brings.” If she wasn’t swimming in the pool, she was surfing or playing in the creeks on the property she grew up on. She attended every swim lesson she was allowed to. Her progress as happened naturally then, as did her progression through squads. It wasn’t long until someone said to her mother, “You’ve got to get this girl into some competitions.” Not only did she love to swim, she also loved to race. 

During her school years, Moesha continued training, starting and ending her days at the pool. There were periods where she would wake up at 4am to be in the water at 5am, often returning in the afternoons. But still she says, “I never dreamed of being an Olympian. I didn’t realise I could get that far.”

After school she went on to achieve a Bachelor of Biomedical Science and a Diploma of Business. While she knew she loved to swim, she felt conflicted pursuing it professionally for much of her life. She saw a lot of people get jobs in nursing, teaching and counselling and felt the pressure to pursue a traditional career. Not only that, getting paid to swim seemed like such a far reach for a country girl who trained in a small 25-metre pool. Although she continued to swim, she said, “I never put my full heart and soul into it because I was nervous what people would think.” 

So, she did what many of us do when we finish school: worked various jobs, got a degree or two and tried to figure out a career pathway she could get excited about. Yet, she never felt pulled to anything. She recalls a period where she heard sermons in church and spoke with individuals about the importance of pursuing one’s passions. For Moesha, swimming wasn’t something she continued doing throughout her life simply because she was good at it. It’s something she loved. “I knew I was passionate about it because I was willing to do it for free,” she said. Sometimes she finds herself thinking, This is ridiculous. Why do I like this so much? But she reminds herself that it’s what makes her unique. “Each of us are born with gifts, we all know that. But we also have passions, and our passions are what God has given you to make you, you,” she said.  

(Photo: Wade J Brennan)

This was the turning point for Moesha, when she decided to take the leap and step fully in. While there have been moments she’s questioned her decision, she is proud that she chose to pursue her passion. But she says she wouldn’t be where she is today without God. “I don’t fully understand the journey He has me on, but I know 110 per cent that I would not have made the Olympic Games without Him,” she said. 

barriers along the way 

Prior to the big race in Doha, Moesha was at a real low and was experiencing burnout and problems in her home club that made her consider retiring from swimming altogether. But before calling it quits, she went to a training camp in Germany. She competed at the end of it, but didn’t reach her goals, meaning she lost a lot of support and funding. She remembers feeling so alone and thinking she’d made a stupid decision. “I’d left everything. I didn’t have anyone to talk to. I didn’t have a coach or a support network because I wasn’t in any particular program. I was living from one Airbnb to the next. It was a really challenging time.” 

After a lot of prayer and consideration, she decided to finish the season. Her results were OK, but not good enough to warrant Swimming Australia’s full support. Not only was she disappointed with her swimming, she was also considered old for a professional swimmer. But God continued to pave the way. 

To her surprise, even though she’d be told she was too old, Moesha was accepted and invited back to swim in Germany full-time . . . by a coach who infamously accepted no-one. She also received an offer to live with someone in Germany and her visa came through in an instant. “All these little things started falling into line to get me to Germany. I was jumping the line on things I shouldn’t have been jumping the line for.” With that, she thought, You know what, we’re going to give this another go.

Another complication came when six weeks before the World Championship, she got extremely sick. This meant she was out of the pool when she should have been training her hardest. She returned to training just before the race, but couldn’t finish all the sessions her coach was giving her as she was still recovering from infections in her chest. For a 10-kilometre swim and a goal to get an Olympic qualification position, three weeks of sub-par training was nowhere near enough . . . especially when her competitors had been training for the past 18 months. 

(Credit: Wade J Brennan)
(Photo: Wade J Brennan)

Still, she showed up to the race and got in the water. “I remember praying to God before and during the race: You know what I’ve gone through to be here. The years of people telling me I shouldn’t be doing sport, of telling me I was too old . . . God, I don’t know what your dreams are for me. But whatever happens out there, just be with me throughout the race. I can’t see how I’ll get through it unless you’re with me.” 

a miraculous comeback 

The thing about open water swimming is that nobody tells you how brutal it is. “It was one of the toughest swims of my life. People were on top of and under me. I had elbows in my face and ribs. I was battered.” Where the pool is predictable, open water has varying conditions. Add in the different factors—the waves, winds, flying limbs, varying water temperatures, different courses—and it creates for a challenging swim. “There’s tactics of when to feed, when not to feed and where to sit in the pack and all that. So, you go through two hours of emotions and problem-solving,” Moesha said. 

While other swimmers pep-talk their way through the race, Moesha talks to God. She says it’s her saving grace. There might be the occasional profanity, she admits, and she’s ended every 10-kilometre race saying, “I’m never doing that again.” But soon after comes feelings of accomplishment and she always finds herself back at the starting line again.  

Currently Moesha is in full-training mode for the big swim through the heart of Paris in the River Seine— the first time in a hundred years it’s been swum in. Her mornings start a little later these days . . . “Thankful to Germany for that!” she laughs. But she’s still training eight hours a day, six to seven days a week. 

Keep an eye out for her in the 10-kilometre open water race in the 2024 Paris Olympics. 

There are many parts of her story where she can see God was involved in getting her to where she is today. She reminds herself to thank Him daily for the opportunities He’s given her. “That sets my heart straight and keeps it aligned. It’s easy to forget and lose sight of what’s right.”

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