Barb (Metz) Lindquist has spent decades competing at the international level both in swimming and triathlon. As a swimmer, she competed for Stanford University. She became a triathlete after college. What she didn’t expect in the years between was the spirit refinement and the replacement of fear with freedom.
When Lindquist swam for Stanford University, a prestigious program that produced national champions and Olympic athletes, she was a believer, but she never connected her athleticism with the opportunity to share God. “It was faith for myself,” she admitted, “I didn’t feel the drive that my story was to share with others.”
Coming off a team national title her sophomore year, Lindquist anticipated a season of continued success. But when a new transfer entered the pool—powerhouse Janet Evans, coming off Olympic domination in the 1988 Seoul Games—training intensified for the distance swimmers, and Lindquist couldn’t keep the pace.
Lindquist could tell she was overtraining, but she didn’t say anything for fear of letting her coach down and kept swimming.
“I was too afraid because if I admitted this, I would be weak, and I had put my coach on a pedestal because he was an Olympic coach and really good,” she said.
Three weeks before the NCAA races, she finally told her coach and he adjusted her workouts, but it was too late. Stanford placed second by nine points and Lindquist contributed a mere three points, compared to her double-digit contribution the prior year.
It was a crushing blow and Lindquist placed the brunt of it on herself. “I felt like it was my fault we didn’t come in first,” she said. “It took hold of me, and I didn’t realize how much my identity was wrapped up in sports and contingent on results.”
This misguided identity wrapped tighter around her during her senior year. Fixated on results, anxiety wracked her mind and body. She started each race cautiously instead of in strength. Fundamentally, she was afraid of what it would look like to “die” in a race—being passed at the end. She scrutinized her every move.
It came to a head during the Pan American Games in ’91, where Lindquist continued her tentative swimming. She finished second in the 400m freestyle in a race she knew she could win. She got out of the water and cried in the corner; she was done with the sport because it wasn’t fun to race in fear of failure.
After graduating college, Lindquist went to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to play, waiting tables while skiing and hiking in her time off. The town didn’t even have a pool. It was a low point for Lindquist, who had placed her entire worth and identity in how she could perform in the pool.
Around the same time, however, her local church started a study on identity. Something stuck with her in those weeks, even though she’d been familiar with the concept of identity in Christ growing up.
“Identity in Christ is Christianity 101, the basic of the Christian message, but I really needed to hear that no matter what I do, God loves me so much He sent Jesus to die on a cross for me,” she shared. “I let it soak in.”
Lindquist’s renewed understanding of her identity as God’s daughter transformed her heart. In the process, God reinstated her desire to compete. A friend was training for a triathlon, and Lindquist signed up too. She figured she had the swimming history, ran in high school and just bought a road bike, so why not?
After two years of racing small races in the region, she met her future husband, Loren, on a cycling club ride. A week later Loren watched her in a triathlon, seeing her potential to turn professional. He also saw her potential as a spouse. He proposed eight weeks later and in 1996 on their honeymoon she did her first professional race.
The irony was not lost on Lindquist that God put her in a sport where she would get a lead on the swim and bike and then be passed on the run. But that concern from swimming and getting passed didn’t bother her like before. “I saw God in it, that He could use a win or loss for His glory,” she said. “He gave me a second chance to do my sport right and a check to say, ‘Make sure your identity is not in your sport but in Me.’
“I had lived in fear of failure, and now I was free.”
A Second Opportunity
Lindquist’s talent became apparent as she began to win more and more races. Her ambition now aligned with God’s, she looked to see how God wanted to show Himself through each race. When it was announced that triathlon would become an Olympic sport in 2000, Lindquist had another goal. She climbed up the rankings and became the top American triathlete by 1998.
Entering Olympic Trials as the heavy favorite, Lindquist seemed poised to fill a roster slot in one of the two Trials races. But things did not go well—she crashed her bike twice in the first race and got heatstroke in the second. Her chance of making it to the Olympics were gone. At 31 years old, she knew it was unlikely she’d get another chance. Lindquist was crushed.
But, God’s strength surged through her as she told reporters, with tears streaming down her face, “This is not what I want, but God has something better. I don’t know what it is, but I trust He has something better.”
Standing in her disappointment, Lindquist became an encouragement to all who heard her profession to trust God amid heartbreak and the unknown. She received letters from parents saying her witness was impactful to their kids.
Over the next few months, Lindquist allowed God to do healing work in her life. He replaced her pain with purpose as Lindquist believed in what she had said to the reporters. She knew God wasn’t done with her story. She continued to race and win over the next three years.
Lindquist and Loren took it race by race, year by year. As Lindquist continued to stay in the triathlete spotlight, she had many opportunities to speak to various clubs and groups, providing her opportunities to share where her strength and power come from.
At the 2004 Olympic trial race, Lindquist crossed the finish line victorious, finally making the Olympic, team, 16 years after Olympic Trials in swimming. Arms raised and pumping her arms, she ran into her husband’s embrace, ecstatic.
She placed 9th in Athens, capping a 10-year career representing the U.S. on the global scale. She retired a year later to start a family and she and Loren were soon blessed with twin boys. Accolades continued for Lindquist as she was inducted into the Team USA Triathlon Hall of Fame in 2009 and the International Triathlon Hall of Fame in 2017.
But now that her racing days were over, what else was there?
Since retiring as an athlete, Lindquist has become a coach. Today, she coaches triathletes online, and she connects with FCA Endurance athletes through triathlete races and clinics. This past summer, Lindquist and her husband attended their first FCA Camp at Black Hills in South Dakota as coaches. She shared her testimony after cross country practice and encouraged runners to not misplace their identity:
“For anyone struggling with the pressure of having their identity from their sport—I give the same spiel I give to my kids in the car on the way to competition: you could win today, or you could come in last, and you could not be loved any more or less because that’s how God loves you,” she said. “He knows how many hairs are on your head, and if you were the only person on earth, He still would have sent His Son to die for you. He loves you so much and wants to have a relationship with you. That is our worth, and I think that takes the pressure off our worth being wrapped up in our sport.”
FCA Camp was just the beginning of Lindquist’s involvement with FCA. They hope to start a Huddle at their local high school in the near future.
“What I like about FCA is that they are stepping into the kids’ world, into the sports world and that builds on a connection that’s already there,” Lindquist shared. “As athletes, we have an underlying understanding already—we know about the sacrifice, the determination, the team, the injury, etc. Add Christ to that, and then we really feel like we have a connection and a sister in Christ and things that bind us.”
Just the Start
From her home in Alta, Wyoming, Barb Lindquist looks out her window at the Grand Tetons, and reflects on her incredible journey.
“I’m super blessed; God gave me the ability to do two sports at the international level, both different experiences,” she said. “When I was done racing, I thought, Well that’s it. God’s finished and there are no more opportunities to share about what He’s done through this amazing athletic journey. But as I instill faith and give lessons about who God is to my kids, their teams and my athletes, I realize He’s not done yet.”
Photos courtesy of Barb Lindquist, Triathlon.org, World Triathlon