Steele Johnson – Liberty University Convocation


>>DAVID NASSER: Steele Johnson.
Man, we’re so honored to have you, bud. Thanks for coming our way.
And I know that, as a college student, you’re missing class today at Purdue.>>STEELE JOHNSON: So, thank you very much
for inviting me out here.>>NASSER: Yeah.>>JOHNSON: To get out of two days of classes.>>NASSER: We’ve gotten to know each other
a little bit in the last 24 hours. He actually spent some time with our swim
and dive team. We’ll get into that in just a few minutes.
And I do want to recognize that they are there in the President’s Box.
Can we welcome them, everybody? [CHEERS] It’s so great to have them.
Also, Coach Jake and Coach Tory, such an honor to have you here with us as well.
Let’s just go back to the beginning. Tell us your story, share a little bit of
your testimony. More than just being a great Olympic athlete,
you’re a common brother in Christ. And we want to hear what God’s been doing
in your life, and uh, share your testimony with us.>>JOHNSON: Yeah, so, I guess with this being
Liberty, I feel like I had a similar upbringing to maybe a lot of people here.
I grew up in the church, grew up going to church.
Grew up in the middle of nowhere in Indiana. But I grew up going to church- Indiana people? [CHEERS] Wow, that’s more than I thought.
But I grew up going to church. I was a member of the worship team in high
school and was a youth leader in high school. And I was just kind of like one of those people
that hung around the church. I was homeschooled because I dove eight hours
a day. [CHEERS] Oh, that’s a lot more homeschooled people
than I thought. But I dove eight hours a day, so, I didn’t
have time to go to normal school. So, I would spend my whole day training, and
then I would spend my evenings doing a little bit of homework, but mostly just hanging around
the church. Because that’s where my friends were, that’s
where people who were into film or into music hung out, and that’s the place I could hang
out with them. And so, as I said, I was training eight hours
a day. When eight years old I started diving.
And we learned really quickly, at the age of eight, that diving was going to be something
I could do in the foreseeable future. Within two years of starting my “diving
career” I guess, as an eight-year-old, I was asked to join the national team, which
was based in Indianapolis. So, it was just an hour away from where I
lived. And it made it a reality for me as a 10-year-old
to dive with eight other athletes, who seven of those eight made the Olympic team in 2008.
So, I was brought up by an incredible group of athletes, and the diver that I won the
Olympic silver medal with, David Boudia, he actually drove me to and from practice from
the age of 10, before he went off to college. So, I’ve actually known him for a really,
really long time. And he would drive me to practice.
He went off to college, and then I ended up going to the same school as him, and we ended
up diving together and being paired together for the Olympics.
Which is something I never really thought would happen, but I’m really glad it did.
Because not only did he work with me to become an Olympian, and dream I really, really wanted
to achieve. He also was the person who took me under his
wing and taught me the gospel. So, I grew up in church.
I grew up around it, I know the stories, I knew of Jesus.
But I didn’t really know Jesus until I was probably like 18 years old.
It was January of 2015 when David sat down with me to coffee.
And he was like, “Okay, we’ve known each other forever.
But like, I haven’t heard your testimony. What’s your testimony?” And I was like,
“Oh, I was baptized when I was eight.” And he’s like, “Great, but what’s your
testimony?” And I was kind of rocked because I didn’t know what a testimony was, and
I realized in that moment, I didn’t really have a personal relationship with Jesus.
I was going to church, I was doing all the right things.
I was trying to be a good person because I thought that’s what would get me to heaven.
And then David kind of showed me what the gospel truly was.
And him and my coach both worked with me to take me through the gospel and show me the
reality of Jesus and why Jesus has already declared identity over us.
And how this Olympic dream would not be able to define me.
Because I dove, and I loved diving, but diving was me.
And I was diving. If I would fail in a meet or not do well,
I would be crushed. I would be depressed. I would be sad.
Because that’s all I knew. I didn’t know that, whether I win an Olympic
or never make an Olympic, that I’m loved, I’m a child of God, and that he’s pleased
with me. I didn’t realize that.
And now leading into the Olympics in 2016, David and Adam really showed me that, along
with my wife who I met in January of 2016. She came alongside me and really loved me
well and showed me the Holy Spirit as well, and how to be a spirit filled person.
So, it was- it was kind of an interesting upbringing.
Very normal, very typical. But when I truly encountered Jesus in 2015,
that’s when my life started to change. Life didn’t get easier.
In some ways, life got way harder. But the thing was that Jesus wasn’t going
to change. You know, diving was going to change.
Some days I would do great, some days I would do bad.
People around me would change. Some days I’d be with people who loved me
well, and somedays I wouldn’t be. But Jesus is going to love me perfectly no
matter what. And I realized that and I had to cling to
that through a pretty dark season, through the year of 2015.
And that’s really what got me through.>>NASSER: Steele, you talked about how you
would train eight hours a day as an eight-year-old. And there’s about seven or eight of you
that were just kind of a part of this training team.>>JOHNSON: Yeah.>>NASSER: That sound just brutally intense.>>JOHNSON: Yeah.>>NASSER: But why- if that’s happening
at that level, why is it that nations like China have such an advantage over the United
Nations- over like the United States or Canada or Great Britain->>JOHNSON: Right.>>NASSER: When it comes to owning that particular
sport?>>JOHNSON: Yeah, so, China right now is like
the dominant nation in diving. We got the silver medal and China won gold.
David and I dove incredibly well, and China dove normal.
China is just an absolute beast when it comes to diving.
It’s because they start training even longer than eight hours a day from an even younger
age. I was eight years old.
They’re like four or five-six years old and they do it full time six-seven days a
week. And they’re just so detail oriented in their
training, which really is needed once you get to age 16, 17, and 18.>>NASSER: So, they literally take a four-year-old
child- and- how does that- how does that work?>>JOHNSON: I honestly don’t even know.
They like- we were in Guangzhou this year actually, and we were doing a training camp
there before went to Wuhan, China for the World Cup.
And we got there and there’s like 300 little kids running around this training facility
all varying from age to like probably 4 to like 16 and 17 just like clockwork, doing
their dives all day long, and doing them so well and tons of coaches around.
So, it’s like a machine there. They just get the kids started young and they
teach them how to be good at a young age so they don’t lose it when they get older.>>NASSER: Wow.
When you- when you were 12 years old you have a pretty traumatic moment in your life that
could have derailed this entire career for you.
But instead, God has used it to take tragedy and really make it testimony.
Can you share a little bit about that?>>JOHNSON: Yes.
So, when I was 12 years old I was in a normal training session, and I started doing 10 meter,
which is the top board, at a super young age. Not a smart idea to be doing it super young,
because a lot can go wrong pretty quickly. And I was doing a dive I shouldn’t have
been doing, and it was a reverse 3-and-a-half tuck.
Did the dive, was too close to the tower and I actually hit my head on the 10-meter platform
and fell 33 feet onto my head, onto the water, and it ripped my scalp in half. [SHOCK]>>NASSER: Hitting the board didn’t necessarily
do the biggest damage, right?>>JOHNSON: No.>>NASSER: Hitting the water->>JOHNSON: Yeah, because when you’re falling
33 feet you’re going like 35 miles an hour. And I hit my head, I probably grazed it on
the tower, created a little cut. But then you fall 35- 33 feet 35 miles an
hour, and that can just *ripping noise* rip open. [SHOCK]>>NASSER: We, uh- we don’t have footage
of it but you were recently- you were recently in a movie as an actor.>>JOHNSON: Yeah.>>NASSER: And it was weird that you actually
played an athlete who, as a diver, hits his head, and then it causes just the rest of
the movie to play out as a comeback story. I did want to show this, then I wanted you
to comment a little bit about the move.>>JOHNSON: Yeah, absolutely.>>NASSER: And how God’s used that particular
moment in your life. Let’s watch this video together. [VIDEO]>>ANNOUNCER (V.O): Beginning the second round
is Garett Delaney doing a reverse 3-and-a-half in the tuck position.
Degree of difficulty, 3.3. Currently, at 81 points, Garrett’s in the
lead by 6. Let’s see if he can follow up his phenomenal
first dive with something just as good and stay ahead of the competition. [END] [SHOCK]>>NASSER: *Laughter* Honestly this is the
whole reason we brought you here just so we can show that.>>JOHNSON: Absolutely, I love that reaction
every single time.>>NASSER: So, when you hit your head, you
black out.>>JOHNSON: No.>>NASSER: No.>>JOHNSON: No.
So, obviously a head injury like that is going to cause a lot of residual damage.
So, something I didn’t tell people for a long time is that injury caused a lot of memory
issues with me. So, I actually don’t remember the incident
at all. I was kind of like I woke up at age 12.
Didn’t realize it had happened, didn’t even realize what was going on.
But I actually hit my head, and from the stories, my teammates who were there and my coaches
told me, I was just there screaming in the water.
And I didn’t know why. And my coach ran over and got in the pool
and held my head together before paramedics could get there.
Because you’re in Chlorine water, you don’t want Chlorine water going into- I’m not
like a Bio person, I’m not a scientist. My wife is way better at this, she went to
school for this. But I assume if you get Chlorine in your head,
you’re going to die. [LAUGHTER] So, he got in to like hold my head together
before they could take me to the hospital, and they put 33 staples into my head, and
then a tube about this long into my head to drain out Chlorine when I slept for the next
week. And it was pretty nasty. [SHOCK]>>NASSER: But yet you’re here.>>JOHNSON: Yeah, yet I’m here.
And I’m still doing that dive too.>>NASSER: Yeah.
So, here’s the amazing thing. Yeah.
This is really cool. [APPLAUSE] So, tell them if you would what you were doing,
the particular dive, and why that is so symbolic in your testimony, how that particular dive
means something special to you because it’s also relevant in another moment in your life.>>JOHNSON: Yeah, so, that dive that everyone
in Men’s 10 meter does. It’s a dive you pretty much need in the
competition to stay competitive. And going into the Olympics to win a silver
medal we knew that dive was going to have to be on our list.
And we had been doing it leading up to that point.
And that was actually->>NASSER: What’s it called?>>JOHNSON: It’s called a reverse 3-and-a-half
tuck. So, anyone, if you go to your pool.
You do a gainer. You know what a gainer is?
Yeah, we call it a gainer, you stand forward and you flip backwards.
And that’s the dive I hit my head on, and that’s the dive that caused David and I
to win an Olympic silver medal too. So, it’s cool to see how God can use something
that life throws at you, something horrible, something that could absolutely take you out
for the rest of your life, or end your life, and use it for good later on down the road. [APPLAUSE]>>NASSER: Yeah.
Speaking of winning the Olympic medal->>JOHNSON: Yeah.>>NASSER: Man, I know it’s in here in the
box that they give the medal to.>>JOHNSON: Yeah.>>NASSER: I’d love you to just talk about,
just for a second, what being a part of the Olympic team and how you qualified.
And then just take us through that moment when you actually not only represented your
nation, which is a great honor, but then you took home the silver.>>JOHNSON: Right, so, for me the hardest
part of the whole Olympic experience was qualifying for the Olympics.
Like I mentioned earlier, 2015 was a really hard year for me.
I was struggling with thoughts of, “Will I make the Olympic team?” “Is this actually
going to happen?” Because you build up for so long.
You dive for 12 years and then six dives at Olympic trials are what determine if you go.
And then six dives at the Olympics are what determines if you medal.
And you’re doing hundreds of hundreds of thousands of dives.
And the process was really tough. The process was hard.
I struggled with a lot of depression because I didn’t understand where my identity was.
I thought I would be someone if I got to the Olympics.
And it was at that time in February of 2015 that I found out I had a broken foot.
And I was given two options by the doctors. “You either get surgery and then try to
come back for Olympic trials, which would be tough.
Or you keep diving on it and risk it completely breaking through before Olympic trials.”
And I took option two because I’m pretty hardheaded and didn’t want to get surgery.
And it ended up working out. I would show up to the meets wearing a boot,
on crutches, on a scooter where you don’t have to use your other leg.
Would take it off gently on the board. Do my dives, put the boot back on, and go
about my day. And I did that all the way through the Olympics.
I wasn’t on crutches at the Olympics, but I was in a boot at the World Championships
before that, the World Cup before that. Just in and out every other month to try to
maintain the health that I had left. So, yeah, it was just a whole process getting
there. But the second I qualified for the Olympics
it was kind of like this weight came off my shoulders.
And it wasn’t a wait of like, “Finally I’ve made the Olympic team.
Like, my dreams have come true.” It was a weight of, kind of- I don’t even
know how to describe it. I was crying in the video, they showed it
earlier. I wasn’t crying necessarily because I was
happy I made the Olympics. It was kind of myself mourning the way I was
living leading up to that moment. It was me mourning all the days and hours
and months I spent just stressing about this one thing.
And one dive. Before that dive, I wasn’t an Olympian,
after that dive, I was an Olympian. But I was still the same person.
I thought it would be this big magical moment where my life would change and everything
would change. But I was literally the same human that just
came up out of the water. And it was a realization for me.
God really revealed himself and his identity for me in that moment.
It was like, “Hey, you’re Steele Johnson, you’re an Olympian now.
But that doesn’t mean a thing. It’s all about the fact that I sent my son
to die for you, not because you’re going to be an Olympian but because I care about
you and I love you. And no matter what you do, what you say, it’s
not going to make me love you any less.”>>NASSER: Yeah, that’s such a powerful
testimony. Isn’t it? [APPLAUSE] You literally have one of the most coveted,
you know, awards in the world. And yesterday you were allowing some of the
students to be able to hold this coveted medal that, as NCAA athletes, that they strive for,
you know, that they want. But yet at the same time, you cast all those
crowns at the foot of God, knowing that what good is it for a man to gain the whole world?>>JOHNSON: Right.>>NASSER: But to forfeit his soul.>>JOHNSON: Yeah.>>NASSER: And that’s why we love your testimony
and that you’re just such a person of perseverance. And- you guys want to see the medal?
Do you guys want to see the medal? It’s a pretty cool one.
Will you show it to us? [APPLAUSE] They’re very careful, I’ve noticed.
Like, he didn’t want anybody to- there it is. [CHEERS]>>JOHNSON: A giant piece of metal.>>NASSER: So, they’re all different, right?
Every nation that represents or hosts the medal ceremonies at the Olympics has a different
one.>>JOHNSON: Yeah.>>NASSER: They all look- tell us a little
bit about it.>>JOHNSON: Yeah, so, this medal.
It’s silver and it’s really heavy. And that’s really all I know about it. [LAUGHTER] Like, I was showing it to the swimmers yesterday,
the swimmers and divers, and they knew more facts about the Olympic medal than I did.
I have no idea like what it weighs. I know it’s heavy and it’s metal and it
sits in a box for months at a time.>>NASSER: Tell us about the box.
What’s crazy->>JOHNSON: The box is cool because the boxes
are designed by people from that nation. A lot of people they’re more like protective
over the box because they don’t want the box to break.
Because then you have to like just leave it out on the counter and it’ll get all scuffed
up. But the box, this one’s made from like Brazilian
leather, it’s really nice.>>NASSER: Wow. [CHEERS]>>JOHNSON: And I just try to- Brazilian leather,
yeah! [LAUGHTER]>>NASSER: That’s awesome.
Yeah, it’s hand scribed- so, it’s- that’s crazy.
And so, every nation makes a different box.>>JOHNSON: Yeah.>>NASSER: They make a different medal.>>JOHNSON: Yep.
It’s all different designs. I think it’s done by the people- oh. [SHOCK] Well, my box was unique.
And now it’s->>NASSER: I’m so, sorry, bro.
Um->>JOHNSON: Well if anyone has a new box I
can put this in that’d be great.>>NASSER: For what it’s worth, we beat
Liberty- I mean, we beat Baylor. So, I don’t know if that helps.>>JOHNSON: True.
That’s true. [CHEERS]>>NASSER: So, we could give you something.
This is not- this is not the real box. Of course, this is not the real box.
Can we show you the real box? Thanks, Coach.
This is the real box.>>JOHNSON: Yeah, so, this is the real box.
It’s actually made of Brazilian wood! [CHEERS] There you go.>>NASSER: Amazing.>>JOHNSON: I guess wood is not as exciting
as leather. But we’ll take it.
But yeah, and almost everyone has broken theirs. I have met all the other athletes that got
their medals and broke their boxes within the first couple days.>>NASSER: Yeah.>>JOHNSON: And mine’s somehow still intact.
So, if I let you hold it, feel free to spike it.
It’s just a box.>>NASSER: That’s right. [LAUGHTER]
We wanted to show that to you because after Convo is done if you wanted to come and just
say hello and meet him->>JOHNSON: Yeah.>>NASSER: He’d love to meet you.
We’ll be up on the side. And he’s going to let you if you want to
take a picture with the medal.>>JOHNSON: Yeah.>>NASSER: He’ll let you do that.
But you can’t touch the box. That’s the one thing, all right? [LAUGHTER] Hey, real quick.
Yesterday you spent some time with our great coaches and with the swim and dive team at
the Natatorium. The brand new Natatorium, by the way, which
is just an incredible facility. [CHEERS]>>JOHNSON: Absolutely amazing.
I’ve been in a lot of Natatoriums across the world, not just the U.S.
And this one was absolutely a pleasure to dive in.
It’s brand new. There’s so many little details put into
it. I was talking with the coach earlier.
Just the fact that the swimming pool and diving wells are separated.
You might not know that that’s such a huge deal, but diving wells are hot typically because
we do one dive and wait five minutes in the hot tub before our next dive.
Unlike swimmers who are constantly going. So, if the pool is cold we’re cold, and
we’re not happy. [LAUGHTER]>>NASSER: We’ve got a little video from
yesterday.>>JOHNSON: Yeah.>>NASSER: Let’s show that real quick. [VIDEO] [MUSIC]>>JOHNSON: I kind of know what it’s like
to be an NCAA athlete all the way all the way through, had all the highs, all the lows.
So, I guess the biggest thing I’ve learned from my collegiate experience especially is
that if you keep what’s important in the right place, the rest is going to fall in
line. [MUSIC] Hi President Falwell, Steele Johnson here.
Heard you were supposed to be diving with me today.
Sad you couldn’t make it. But next time I’m in town I’m going to
have you right up here with me on this 10 meter.
Hope to see you next time. [END]>>NASSER: That is so good, man.>>JOHNSON: Yeah, that was a lot of fun. [APPLAUSE]>>NASSER: Everything about you is cool, except
a lot of us just can’t get over the Speedo thing, man.
That’s just- [LAUGHTER AND CHEERS]>>JOHNSON: Yeah, it’s the uniform.
I can’t change it.>>NASSER: Can’t you just wear some jorts,
or something like that. [LAUGHTER]>>JOHNSON: See, I would, but the second you
grab your position they split. So, a Speedo is actually a safer option, believe
it or not.>>NASSER: It would increase the audience,
I think. The people would watch more if we knew that
that was a possibility. [LAUGHTER]>>JOHNSON: I probably wouldn’t be in the
sport then.>>NASSER: That’s right. [LAUGHTER] All right.
We’re going to do a quick lightning round. We wanted to have some fun with this.
You ready for this before we got out of here?>>JOHNSON: I hope so.>>NASSER: All right.
Ready? Pepsi or Coke?>>JOHNSON: Um, wow I wasn’t ready for this.
What’s Mountain Dew under? [CHEERS]>>NASSER: Pepsi.>>JOHNSON: Pepsi?
There we go.>>NASSER: Is that right?
Mountain Dew Pepsi?>>JOHNSON: Thank you very much.>>NASSER: There you go.
Well, we’re a Coke campus, so- [CHEERS]>>JOHNSON: Well->>NASSER: There goes you honorarium check.>>JOHNSON: I’m sorry.>>NASSER: Drake or Kanye.>>JOHNSON: Drake.
Are you kidding me? [CHEERS] Yeah.
That’s not a real question.>>NASSER: Favorite holiday?>>JOHNSON: Christmas, of course. [CHEERS]>>NASSER: Favorite animal?>>JOHNSON: My Australian Labradoodle puppy. [CHEERS] She’s got one eye and she’s the cutest
thing in the world. [“AWW”]>>NASSER: Do you ever dress he in a little
Speedo?>>JOHNSON: No, but she’s going to be a
pirate for Halloween. [LAUGHTER] My wife and I obsess over our dog too much,
if you can’t tell.>>NASSER: Favorite sports team?
*whispering* The Flames.>>JOHNSON: Team U.S.A.- I mean, the Flames.
Absolutely the Flames.>>NASSER: The Flames!>>JOHNSON: Go Flames! [CHEERS]>>NASSER: The football game Friday.
McDonald’s or Wendy’s?>>JOHNSON: McDonald’s.>>NASSER: Really? [CHEERS]>>JOHNSON: Oh yeah.>>NASSER: Important to note that we’ve
been asking him about Coke and Pepsi, McDonald’s or Wendy’s, because he does not eat healthy
at all.>>JOHNSON: I do not.
If you would have seen me in the green room I had, what- was is quiche?
Three quiches, a cinnamon roll, a bear claw, two lattes.
I’m just- I’m a human like trash compactor when it comes to food. [LAUGHTER]>>NASSER: All right, what is your favorite
music genre.>>JOHNSON: So, if anyone follows.
Me on Twitter or Instagram you probably already know this.
Yeah, there we go. But I’m a huge fan of Metal Core.
So- [CHEERS] Oh, wow, that’s a good amount of people.
So, I’m the person that you’ll see at the center of the mosh pit or stage diving.
And actually, my first metal show was at a band called For Today. [CHEERS] You guys know them?
Mattie Montgomery has been here to speak. I know him pretty well, I’m friends with
him. And I crowd surfed onto the stage.>>NASSER: Yeah.>>JOHNSON: And typically they take you off.
And he picked me up and threw me off the stage the crowd surf back out.
So->>NASSER: That’s amazing.>>JOHNSON: Go, Metal, baby. [CHEERS]>>NASSER: Interesting- Interesting fact,
we love Mattie. And we just confirmed he will be with us next
semester again. So, we can’t wait to have him. [CHEERS]>>JOHNSON: Can I come back and watch him?>>NASSER: Yeah man, come join us that day.
Last question, it’s the same question we ask all of our guests that come our way.
We just want to know how specifically can we be praying for you?
I know that you’re hoping to be a part of the next Olympic team.
I know that that’s a big deal. But more than that just we want to, when we
see you on TV, to be mindful to go, we’re going after the Lord for our brother and his
wife.>>JOHNSON: Right.>>NASSER: How can we be praying for you?>>JOHNSON: I think the biggest way y’all
could be praying for me is just that I- I’m newly married.
I got married over a year ago. And marriage is amazing, but it can be a real
challenge because it really shows you a lot of your own selfishness and your own selfishness
and your own sin in your life that you didn’t see before.
And I really have a goal of just being a great husband for my wife and just being there for
her and being able to communicate well with her.
And I’m not a great communicator. We’ve had some hard times and she’s really
loved me well through it. So, I just- I could use prayer just that I
can continue to try to be a good husband for her and love her well.
Love my puppy well, and kids way down the line in the future.>>NASSER: I’m asked our swim coach Jake-
brother, we love you. And Tory, by the way, today is actually her
due date, by the way, everybody. [CHEERS]>>JOHNSON: Yeah.>>NASSER: So, big favor that she’ll come.
Tory, come on up as well if you don’t mind. I want them to pray, all right, over our brother.
But can we all do this together? Can we put our hands towards Steele Johnson?
And man, we love you. We’re thankful that God is using you in
great ways. Be salt and light as you go.
And Jake if you would. Just, let’s pray.>>JAKE: (Praying) Father, first let me, on
behalf of everyone, say thank you. Thank you for the opportunity to attend Liberty
University. Thank you for the opportunity to hear from
all the various speakers that we do. What an honor, what a blessing to hear from
so many great people, Christ followers. And Father, thank you specifically for the
visit today of Steele Johnson. And what a great testimony, not just in the
swimming and diving world where Steele is certainly an inspiration, but really worldwide
and the example that he sets for traumatic brain injury survivors worldwide.
What a great testimony, to face adversity. James, consider it “pure joy” when we
face trials. And Steele certainly did that, and we thank
you for his perseverance as a test of his faith.
And Father, we pray for Steele and his wife. Newlyweds, one year.
I just pray for them as they go about the rest of their lives, and challenges with school
and elite level Olympic training, just please be with them.
Be with the puppy as well as they start a new life together.
Father, please let them be an example for everyone on the swimming and diving world
on how to do things the right way, and how to do things your way.
Father, we thank. you.
(End) Pastor Nasser?>>NASSER: Amen.
Hey, can we just one more time thank Steele Johnson for just being here with us today? [CHEERS] I’ve asked him- I’ve asked him to be out
in the front if you want to come and say hi and shake his hand, and maybe even get to
hold the medal, you’re welcome to. Thanks again, everybody.
You’re dismissed. See you on Monday.

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