Two years of training suddenly for naught – that’s how Bridgette Sexton felt when she found out the Big West heptathlon had been switched from a middle-of-the-week to a Friday-Saturday event.
Sexton, a Cal Poly track and field athlete, is a member of the United Church of God. While pursuing the sport she loves, she has committed to keeping the Sabbath, choosing not to compete from Friday at sundown until Saturday at sundown. That meant the sophomore heptathlete would have to switch to a different event for the Big West meet – the 3,000-meter steeplechase.
“I’ve been keeping the Sabbath my whole life, and to me, it’s a gift that God set aside a day – to rest and recuperate from your week,” Sexton said.
Sexton finished in eighth place in the steeple at the Big West finals last Friday despite just a few weeks of long-distance practices.
“It’s just my one time where I get an opportunity to relax and really refocus my life, and it’s been an awesome opportunity for me to – (set) my own desires aside for one day just to serve something greater than myself.”
Keeping the Sabbath has always been Sexton’s choice, and because of her strong convictions, she has never faltered with her decision.
“Although I love track and it’s really important, I could so easily be injured and I would not have that (anymore), but this is something I always have,” Sexton said, which is why she continually chooses not to compete during the Sabbath.
Sexton is no stranger to the sacrifice that results from this decision.
“My whole athletic career since I was in middle school has been basically one big barrier after another, one big obstacle, one hurdle, and – it’s been really hard,” Sexton said. “I can’t say that I haven’t left track meets or watched my team leave for a meet and not cried or not been frustrated, but there’s never been a hurdle that I haven’t been able to get over, and I’m going to keep fighting to get over them.”
Finding a college team that would take her on despite her need to have the Sabbath off was a challenge because most track meets are held during this time. Sexton explained that she initially received offers to run at schools such as Columbia, Cornell and Harvard, but that they took back their offers when they found out about the Sabbath.
She then sent out about 500 e-mails to coaches across the country, writing to tell them that she would work diligently for six days, but that she needed one day off, and that this would not change. Of those 500 e-mails, Sexton received only two responses from schools that were genuinely interested.
At the time, Jack Hoyt was the coach at Seattle Pacific University, and he was willing to take a risk with Sexton, so she began college there as a heptathlete. Typically, heptathlon competitions, which are female versions of the decathlon, are held during the week, which would allow her to compete in this event.
“I knew she was a competitor, and her number one thing – was to compete in college athletics,” said Hoyt, who is now the assistant track and field coach at Cal Poly.
“All she asks is that she has Saturday, the Sabbath, to do her worship and spend time with God and rest,” Hoyt said. “And I can deal with that.”
Sexton transferred to Cal Poly winter quarter of this year, continuing to train as a heptathlete. Then, about one month before conference, the event was moved to Saturday and Sunday.
“That was a really big blow for me,” Sexton said. “I had been training for two years – for something I couldn’t do all of the sudden.”
But she and her coaches refused to give up. They decided to enter her as a wildcard in the steeplechase, a 3000-meter race that requires hurdling five barriers and a water pit. Sexton had three weeks to train as a distance runner for an event she had only participated in once before.
Although her season is now over, Sexton will likely continue to train as a steeplechase athlete.
“I have this thing that is perceived as a weakness, the Sabbath, but really it’s what makes me strong,” Sexton said. “It’s what makes me a better athlete.”