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Michelle Akers Surrenders to God

By college, Michelle [Akers] had become an All-American soccer star, earning ESPN's woman athlete of the year in 1985—the same year the United States formed its first women's national team, with Michelle a starter.

In 1991 the U.S. team won the first-ever Women's World Cup and Michelle scored 10 goals in five games, including the championship's winner. She signed an endorsement deal and became the first woman soccer player to have a paid sponsor. She played professionally in Sweden. Michelle's drive and tenacity were beginning to pay off. She even tried out as the place kicker for the Dallas Cowboys: her longest attempt reached 52 yards.

But just as her star was rising, Michelle's health was declining. By 1993, the woman who used grit and determination to make life happen found her life unmanageable.

"Each day I felt like I had flown to Europe with no food or sleep, then flown right back and trained for hours," Michelle says.

She suffered from Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS), a debilitating disease affecting more than a million adult Americans. "When it was really bad, I couldn't sit up in a chair. The racking migraines stranded me at home, unable even to get up to brush my teeth or eat."

For the first time, Michelle could no longer count on her old friends—strength and hard work. She had to find a new way to cope.

"I couldn't bear not to be the best in the world, not to be the one who could bounce back from any injury," she says. "It was the only me I knew." When her marriage of four years broke up in 1994, Michelle had reached the end of herself.

"I was so sick I couldn't take a five-minute walk without needing two days on the couch to recover. I was forced to spend a lot of time thinking about who I was. I didn't like what I saw."

Michelle had put her trust in Christ as a high-school student, but ignored God in college and after graduation. Now sick and alone, Michelle reluctantly accepted an invitation from a strength coach to attend his church, Northland Community Church in Longwood, Florida. Although she couldn't articulate it at the time, in retrospect Michelle says she knew she "needed to get things right with God."

"Looking back," she explains, "I think God was gently, patiently tapping me on the shoulder and calling my name for years. But I continuously brushed him off, saying, 'Hey, I know what I am doing. I can make these decisions. Leave me alone.' Then I think he finally said, 'Okay,' crossed his arms and looked at me sadly—because he knew I was going to make a lot of mistakes by ignoring him. He knew I would be hurting in the future.

"It took total devastation before I would acquiesce and say, 'Okay, God. You can have my life. Please, help me.'"

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