By Michael Gresham
The Texas Catholic
To achieve his Olympic dream, Tom Scott had to first come to grips that it may not happen.
Scott, an alum of St. Mark Catholic School, returned to his alma mater Sept. 7, fresh off a trip to the Tokyo Olympic games where he represented Team USA in karate. He took the opportunity at the Plano school to share the story of his journey and urge students to never give up on their faith or on following their dreams.
“God can use your passions as a way for you to meet new people, to impact different people, and to help you in those places that you feel are most important,” said Scott, who also graduated from Jesuit College Preparatory School. “If you include your Father in your journey you can expect great things. But you have to be curious and reach out first. He is there waiting I promise.”
Scott’s trek to Tokyo was a roller coaster ride of highs and lows, heartbreak and elation. In the sport, Scott is a six-time Pan American champion, a 15-time national champion and a 10-time USA Open champion. When it was announced that karate would be a sport in the Tokyo Olympics, he was among the top-ranked athletes in his sport in the world.
“We knew it was going to be difficult,” said Scott, noting that only 10 athletes from around the world would be invited to compete in his category. “But when things kicked off, I was doing very well. I was winning medals. I was sitting in fifth place in the world rankings.”
The success, Scott admitted, may have led to him losing sight of his dream.
“It became about the Olympics, chasing that dream,” he explained. “It was a lot of pressure. I lost focus. With something as big as the Olympics, that can happen.”In 2020, the final stretch of qualifications for the Olympics, misfortune struck. Scott found himself in a losing streak.
“All I had to do going into that year was do pretty well…but I lost sight and I lost three times in a row,” he said. “I was pretty bitter. I was upset. I was disappointed. My head was not in the right place.”
With one opportunity left, an event in Paris, Scott didn’t like his chances.
“I wasn’t ready,” he said. “I felt I wasn’t going to do well.”
Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck and everything shut down – a worldwide disruption, but also an opportunity. Scott admitted he felt relief. With everything paused, he had a chance to refocus on his dream.
“It’s incredible to me that God can take disasters and still work purpose in people’s lives,” Scott said. “I went back to my 8-year-old self – I enjoyed punching, kicking and moving. It had nothing to do with the Olympics. I just loved my sport.”
When activities began again, a refocused and re-energized Scott traveled to Paris, winning his first round match before losing to a world champion from Brazil in the second round despite landing what could have been a winning kick that was unseen by the referee. His chance at the Olympics gone. Back home, his supporters were outraged, but Scott said he was in a better place to accept the result.
“I could have been upset, but I decided not to do that,” Scott told the St. Mark students. “I came to Paris with the right intentions. I love my sport. I gave it my best shot.”
In an Instagram post following the tournament, Scott wrote to his supporters, “God said no. I will not go to the Olympics. I asked Him. I tried. But the answer was no.”
He added that “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle” and that he would not give in to anger or jealousy.
“I am not afraid of suffering. It will bring me closer to God if I let it,” he wrote. “That is very much still exciting enough for me.”
Two weeks later, though, Scott returned to the social media platform with a happier post.
“I am going to the Olympics,” he wrote after learning that a competitor who had qualified for the Olympics had been excluded for a doping violation. “I have long prayed for increased dependence on God in all areas of my life. And while I felt so near to Him following defeat, His plans are great and beyond me. I could never have imagined a story with beginnings like this.”
In Tokyo, Scott won two of his four elimination-round bouts, but missed out on advancing to the semifinal round. While the experience didn’t end with a medal, Scott doesn’t let that deter his spirit, vowing to continue to push for the inclusion of karate in future Olympic games. Likewise, he told those in attendance on Sept. 7 to pursue their passions, but also to understand God has a role for everyone.
“We have a God who hears us, denies us, grants us, builds us, leads us, and uses us…if we’re open to it.”