USA's Sarah Scherer draws strength from faith

LONDON — American Sarah Scherer sat in the crowd during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, cheering on her brother Stephen in the air rifle competition. She was thrilled to see him reap the fruits of countless hours of training and practice.

Shooting had been a bonding activity for the Scherer siblings for eight years at that point. When Stephen picked up the sport, his little 9-year-old sister Sarah wanted to join him. They were practically inseparable, both inside and outside of the shooting range. Such was life for the Scherers as they grew up in a single-parent home, with their mother Sue doing the best she could to provide for her family.

This year, 21-year-old Sarah will be the one grabbing the air rifle to compete in London. She'll suit up in the heavy leather outfit that helps support her physically as she aims and fires at 40 quarter-sized targets from 10 meters away. She'll make every effort to control, relax and steady her body — even her beating heart.

The roles will not be reversed from 2008, when she watched her brother compete. Stephen will be noticeably absent. Two years after his 2008 Olympic competition, he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The heart that Sarah Scherer will try so hard to still during her Olympic competition — the heart whose untimely beat can be the difference between pinpoint precision and catastrophic error in her sport — was practically torn from her body when her brother died. She contemplated giving up shooting entirely. Too many haunting reminders.

But through God's grace and the love and support of family and friends, Sarah has found the strength to continue her own shooting career. She does it with a heart full of hope and confidence that she and her brother will one day be reunited.

"Knowing that my brother had a faith in Christ and lived for Him, that's the biggest thing for me," Scherer said. "Because of that decision and that choice my brother made, and that trust that I have, I'm 100 percent sure of where my brother is. I know that he's in a much better place, and that I'll see him again in heaven. That's the number one comfort that I've really experienced coming from my brother's faith."

In the months that followed Stephen's death, Sarah found encouragement from Scripture. Her church surrounded her and her mother with prayers. Sarah's collegiate small group was especially helpful as she grieved her brother's loss and wrestled with the difficult questions. Why, God?

"Sarah's small group was kind of an anchor that continually brought her back to what she knew to be true from God's Word, even when she was at her lowest points," said Spencer Plumlee, one of Southcliff's pastors who was the college minister at the time.

Friends emailed or texted her with encouragement, often at just the time Sarah needed it the most. Her small group leader talked with her and listened to Sarah's questions. Through all these things, Sarah saw the hand of God upholding her. She heard the voice of God telling her, "I'm here for you. Yes, this is a tough time, but I have a plan, and I'm in control."

"Leaning on Christ through this time has been the only way that I've gotten through it," she said.

Scherer continued to practice and develop her shooting skills on the Texas Christian University shooting team. The times she felt like quitting, she got confirmation from God that He still had work for her to do among that community.

So she kept at it, and her diligence paid off. As she prepares to compete in London, Scherer knows the Olympics may resurrect painful memories of her brother. This was their dream, not just hers, and now he's no longer there to share it with her.

But she's also fully aware of the work God has done in her life, bringing her through trials and tragedy and preparing her for the biggest athletic event of her life. Whatever the outcome, Scherer continues to cling to her Lord.

"My performance in the athletic world doesn't define who I am," she said. "My definition is from Christ."