Olympic Faith part 3 – Skis & Skates – David Wise USA Freestyle Skiing – Half Pipe & Nicole Helmsley USA Women’s Ice Hockey

Soohorang & Bandabi – 2018 PyeongChang Olympics Mascots

I just finished watching the movie “Eddie the Eagle”. I had watched it before, but it was fun to watch during the Olympics. (we watched Cool Runnings last week too) and being a young Canadian during the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, I remember the attention that the story drew from the media. Eddie the Eagle was a huge part of those games. And the movie showed the lengths that he took to fulfill his Olympic dream.

David Wise en route to Olympic gold in 2014

It takes a lifetime of effort to qualify for the Olympics. If you should happen to medal it must be the icing on the cake. To qualify again four years later and get a chance to defend your title is another amazing accomplishment in itself. That is where Freestyle Skier David Wise finds himself  – Back in the Olympics, attempting to remain the only man on the planet to win Olympic Gold in this event. 

Wise with his Sochi 2014 medal is hoping to add a 2018 one to his collection.

Sochi was the Olympic Debut for Freestyle Skiers in the Halfpipe. Wise won Gold. It was a culmination of years of hard work and a dream come true for Wise. But his return to the Olympics has been an arduous journey as well. As you can read in this article from Religion News, some had written him off due to injury and other issues. On his blog, he writes “I am coming off the worst two seasons of my competitive career… A lot of things played into my lack of success in the past couple years: I had an injured shoulder and back, three separate concussions, my wife lost her father, my sister Christy was in a boating accident and lost her leg, I had a dear student of mine commit suicide. Not to mention my wife and I had our second child, Malachi, shortly after the Olympics in Sochi…. After Alexandra gave birth to Malachi, she went through a hard year of postpartum depression – something more common than most people realize… ” He continues to discuss that some turned their back on him (including sponsors) but that has only fueled his fire to give it his all in PyeongChang. CBN recently wrote an article about Wise.

Wise, with his wife Alexandra and their 2 kids. Faith in God has carried them many hard things

You won’t see the 27-year-old freestyle skier of the Halfpipe talking about God in interviews … What you will see is Wise talking about serving others and his family. Wise told SportsSprectrum.com  he would rather consistently live out his faith before talking a lot about it. “I don’t tell my Christian friends I’m a pro-skier. I don’t tell my skier friends I’m a Christian,” Wise said. “But you’re going to find out if you spend enough time with me either way.

 

Wise is ready to go on February 20 in the Half Pipe.

Also, check out this story from The War Cry. He says “(faith) has to be personal or else it’s not real,” Wise said. “That’s the most important part. If Christianity were just another world religion it would just be another example of people trying to earn God’s favor. The reality is Christ chose us because he wants that relationship with us. Discovering that on my own is when I really, truly felt it was my faith …We either choose to seek or we choose to drown it out with other things. I love in Jeremiah where it says if you seek me with all your heart you will find me,” Wise said. “That’s my experience. I went through life and I got to the point where I realized I just believed what I was told for a long time. Now I need to discover what it is I truly believe. What’s really true.”

My main Takeaway:

1- It’ll show – There is a lot of truth in what Wise said about his faith and his work. He doesn’t tell skiers he is a Christian, he doesn’t tell Christian friends he is a skier – spend enough time with him, who he is shows up. That is a great challenge for us. If you are a Christian, does Christ “show up” in your daily life so much  that even without declaring your faith, others know that it is part of who you are? I know that this thought challenges me to be more intentional with how I live. I want my actions to support the faith I have in God and the life He calls me to live.

Team USA goalie Nicole Hemsley

Goaltender Nicole Hensley is in her first Winter Olympics. She is a goaltender for the Women’s hockey team that has aspirations of gold after 4 straight Olympic Silver Medals. In her first game of the Olympic tournament, Hensley turned aside all 13 shots that she faced as USA defeated the Olympic Athletes from Russia team 5-0. For Hensley, her faith in God is very important to her. She knows that she has a platform to tell others about Him and does so frequently sharing bible verses on Twitter and even featuring some favorite verses on her goalie masks. She says
He’s also given me a bit of a platform to possibly reach others who are wondering about their faith, or maybe don’t have any faith, or want to grow stronger in their faith. Maybe it’s a way to start a conversation with somebody” . 

Hensley has been known to feature Bible Verses on her goalie mask.

Now, despite how easy it all looks from the comfort of my own couch, I understand that all Olympic journeys have more bumps than a moguls run. There are hardships at every turn and challenges that must be overcome. When these hard things come, we are often tempted to give up or turn away. But as Hensley shares in this CBN article, “Looking back with 20-20 hindsight, obviously He had a plan in every single place that He put me. It is easy to say that now, but really it’s just taught me that through the hardships you have to trust in your faith. You have to be willing to be uncomfortable to either grow in your faith or grow as a person or player as well

Hensley backstopped team USA to a 5-0 shutout against the Olympic Athletes from Russia in the opening round of the Olympic tournament.

My takeaway:

I’ve talked about it before, but it bears repeating because it is a lesson, sadly, that we need to learn over and over again. God is not calling us to a life of comfort. Far from it. When we are truly following God and living for Him, there will be many hard time that make things plenty uncomfortable for us. But in those times, and as Hensley mentions after those times come to an end, or at least give us a brief moment of rest, we see that God had purpose for the pain. It was a process of helping us lean on Him alone and put complete faith in his plan. May we always be ready to step out of our comfort zone if it leads us to a deeper faith in Him.

 

Olympic Faith Part 2 – Valentine’s Day Special – The Taylors and the Knierims

The Olympics Flame in PyeongChang

Today is Valentine’s Day and so with the Olympics in full force. So to bring together Olympic Sports and Love together, I’ve decided to use this space to share the stories of 2 Olympic couples and the stories that brought them together, and brought them to PyeongChang for the Olympics. You will also see how woven into their stories, the amazing parts and the hard parts, is their faith in God and the role He plays in their lives.

First to the ice:

Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Kneirim with their Bronze medals won in the Team event last week.

Chris Knierim and his wife Alexa Scimeca Knierim already have a bronze medal to take home with them, in the Figure Skate Team competition. Now, they focus their attention on the couples competition. For a couple that was just thrilled to make the Olympic team, the medal is icing on the cake. It has been a long journey, at times harrowing journey to get to PyeongChang, and so the games have been therapeutic. Alexa says This competition’s very meaningful for us. We’ve kind of been lacking the joy and lightheartedness of life for about two years now, from all the struggles we’ve been through, so being here together, Chris and I are kind of just enjoying it.”

In the past 4 years, there have been broken bones, life saving surgeries and deaths in the family. They lean on each other and their faith in God for strength to get through these trials

What kind of struggles have they faced? Their dreams for the 2014 Sochi Olympics were haltedafter Chris broke his leg. They set their sights on 2018 in Korea. But in April of 2016, It was discovered that Alexa  had a rare disorder that had her throwing up often, losing weight and energy and having difficulty eating, drinking and sleeping.  Three surgeries to correct the issue and and nine months later,  The questions of whether they would skate competitively again were answered when they competed in the 2017 Four Continents Championship. Then, last April, in the midst of their push towards making the Olympics, Chris’ father passed away.  “I was crushed. Devastated. Broken,” Chris wrote on a social media post. “But again, I was brave on the outside. After all, we were heading into the Olympic season and there was no time to cry. I worked through the days I was empty inside and skated for the pride of my father.

Chris and Alexa have one more skate in their 2018 Olympic experience. Just being at the Olympics is a victory for them.

Standing on the podium, looking up at the flag, Chris allowed his mind to wander back to his father – who served in the military. “But for a moment Monday, he allowed his mind to drift, allowed the memories to flood back, allowed his emotions to win, watching the symbol of everything his father represented climb into an inky sky. “I know,” Chris said, “he’s proud of me.”

Alexa also shares that their faith in God has grown. (Faith) is the reason I was able to get back on the ice, because I stopped worrying and stopped trying to control life, because I couldn’t. In the moment, you know, I was so sick and didn’t really know where things were going to go for me, whether it was skating or life in general. So I finally just threw my hands up and said like, ‘You lead the way,’ and it’s my testimony and I stay true to it. And even here at the Games, it’s no longer about me. I have fans out there who know that I am a true believer in the Lord and I’m trying my best to shine his light and let people know that it’s okay to promote him and do things for him.”

They have one more skate to go tonight. It is worth cheering them on for persisting through hard times and leaning on God for strength. I am challenged by her words. We try to keep control and learn often that we really don’t have any control over what comes our way in this life. Let’s follow this example to give up our idea of control and find our strength in God.

Elena Myers (front) is competing in her 3rd Winter Olympics.

Nic Taylor and Elena Meyers-Taylor are bobsledders. Nic is an alternate on the Men’s team and will step in in case of injury. Elena is competing in her 3rd Olympics. She is a 2 time medal winner – bronze in Vancouver in 2010 and Silver in Sochi 4 years ago. If the trend continues, she will find herself at the top of the podium this time around. You can read this article from CBN that shares the story of how they came to be husband and wife and how they work together to better each other.

In a recent interviewed by Belief.net, Elena shared about how her relationship with God plays into her athletic career and her personal relationships. She answers “The Lord calls us to love everybody. Every day it’s a challenge. Within this sport, I’m called to love everybody. That means that every single German or Canadian that I want to beat, I still have to love. That means competing the way God wants me to compete. That means doing things that might not necessarily be seen as giving me a competitive advantage but instead doing what God would want me to do. As Christians, we’re asked to give.

Myers and Lauryn Williams – silver medalists in Sochi 2014

In my sport, if someone needs equipment or help with something, regardless of who they are as a competitor, I’m called to help them for a higher purpose. So it definitely affects everything I do…  I know that God is working through me within this sport. I know He’s put me here for a purpose and it’s not just to win medals. Winning is great and hopefully it gives me a platform to spread His love and spread His Word, but at the end of the day, I’m called to do what He wants me to do.

Nic Taylor at the Olympics on the US Men’s bobsled team and Elena Meyers-Taylor were married in April 2014.

Again, I find her words challenging. We tend to be so self-serving. We do whatever it takes to look out for ourselves and often it comes at the expense of others. Elena’s words challenge me again to think of others first, to set aside temptations to look after my own needs regardless of what it may mean to others. I pray that God will give me eyes to see the needs of those around me and how He can use me to help. I pray that I will willingly do whatever He asks me to do and spread his love and word in the world around me.

Olympic Faith Part 1 -History Makers- Maame Biney, Seun Adigun and Simidele Adeagbo

 

The Olympics are now on day 4 of competition and it has been a lot of fun to watch. I think the Olympics are my favorite overall Sporting event. I was born just a few days before the start of the Montreal Olympics, and I remember fondly watching almost every Olympics since then. I enjoy the stories of the athletes, most lesser known than the “professionals” that absorb most of the sports landscape in North America. Many have incredible journeys and vast measures of sticktoitiveness to make it to the Olympics. Today, I want to share 3 of those stories.

Maame Biney – USA Short Track Speed Skater

Maame Biney

It doesn’t take long to become a fan of Maame Biney. Maybe it is her father, Kweku, holding a sign saying “Kick some Hiney Biney!” at Olympic Trials. Maybe it is the huge smile that is seen almost all the time flashing across her face – except at race time.  Maybe it is the dance of excitement she breaks into when she is successful in a race. Maybe it is a bit of all this wrapped together with an amazing story of moving from Ghana to Virginia, being separated by all those miles from her mother and younger brother. You can check out the story in this CNN article. It shares how 3 months after arriving in America, her dad pointed out a “learn to skate” sign for figure skating lessons. That didn’t take, but her coach suggested that her speed and energy would work well in speed skating. And there, at age 5, began the journey that has sent her now to PyeongChang, South Korea.

Upon qualifying for the Olympics, Biney shared the importance God plays in her life. She wrote “I want to start off by thanking God.  I am so sure that none of this would have happened if it wasn’t for Him. If God hadn’t given my dad the strength to wake up, and take me to practice, I wouldn’t be here today. I also want to thank God for giving me the passion to do this.” It is this last line that catches my attention. God has given us all passion to do different things. What is your passion? How can  God use you for His purposes?

The almost constant smile of Maame Biney

The other part of her story that I kept coming back to was something her father said to her after she felt she had a bad result at a skating event. He said “No matter what happens tomorrow, whether you get last or whether you get first, just know that I love you not because you’re a speed skater but because you’re Maame and you’re my daughter,” I love that because it is similar to how God views us. No matter what happens tomorrow, He loves us – not because of what we accomplish, but because we are His creation. What a great place to rest in – His perfect, unending love.

Seun Adigun – Nigeria Bobsled team captain

Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omeoga are making history as the Nigerian Bobsled team

Seun represented Nigeria in the 2012 Olympics in the 100m hurdles. She had sustained a leg injury and was not at 100% for those 2012 games. As you can read in this article from TMC she was not content with the results failing to qualify from her opening heat, so she tried out for Team USA bobsled in hoping to redeem her Olympic experience.  She is a duel citizen of USA and Nigeria and her bobsled training experience, partnered with the fact that 2 of her friends in Houston were also track and field athletes and also duel citizens from Nigeria, to put together the first ever bobsled team from an African country.

The Nigerian Bobsled team is the first African entry in the Olympic Bobsled competition.

She built a makeshift bobsled out of wood, to “simulate the bobsled in Lake Placid, where I trained with the U.S. team“. And while she is still adjusting to the Winter weather – she talks about numb hands and frostbite – she has accomplished her goal of putting together the first Bobsled team from an African Nation. Oh, and she also completed her doctorate. When asked how she balanced her schedule and accomplished all this, she says “When you ride on faith, you’re able to live in that element of selflessness. You’re able to live in that moment of fearlessness. I don’t attribute any type of individual success to myself, but more so to God’s will to put me in places to allow things to flourish or opportunities to present themselves,

What opportunities are presenting themselves in your life? How can God help you flourish in those opportunities?

 

Simidele Adeagbo – Nigerian Skelton

Nigerian Skelton competitor Simidele Adeagbo.

If Seun and the other bobsledders were hoping to inspire other with their historical efforts, they don’t have to look very far to see that they have. Meet Simidele Adeagbo.  When she heard about the Nigerian Bobsled team, she was inspired to chase her own Olympic dream as well. She had been pursuing her hopes to make the Olympics her whole life, as a Track and Field athlete. She had not been successful, and finally saw her opportunity present itself in an unexpected way – in the Winter Olympics.  You can read about it in this interview from Punchng.com.  She learned about the bobsled team and it inspired her to take up a new sport – Skelton. She has only been active in the sport since last September.

Adeagbo only picked up the sport of Skelton last September. To qualify for PyeongChang is an amazing accomplishment.

The interviewer from Punch asked “who is Simidele Adeagbo? Her answer? “Simidele Adeagbo is a creative force, she is very determined, a pioneer, a business woman, an extraordinary athlete and a Nigerian. She is a sister, a friend, a Christian and she loves God and through this journey, God has even shown her how faith is most important because faith made this possible.

Faith is most important. It can lead us down roads we never would have dreamed of. Where is God asking you to trust Him and step out in an exercise of faith? Are you ready for the adventure that awaits?

 

Women’s Day Special – Margaret Court – Tennis Champ

Women’s Tennis’ most decorated Champion ever is Australian Margaret Court

Today is International Women’s Day. It is a day “celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.”  And while I have shared posts about some women in the history of this blog space, the content does tend to be more about men than women simply due to the nature of availability of resources (i.e. articles I can find about the athletes). But there are many women athletes who have accomplished amazing things and demonstrated a strong faith both on and off the fields of play.  And so on this International Women’s Day, I would like to draw attention to the story of Margaret Court.

In the 60’s, when Court was coming up in the Pro Tennis world, she trained in a way that tended to be reserved for Men’s training.

Margaret Court (nee Smith) was born in Albury, New South Wales, Australia on 16 July 1942.  She began playing professionally in 1960 and quickly found success. Her career numbers are staggering.

From her Wikipedia page:

Her  career winning percentage of 91.68% (1180–107) is one of the best of all time according to the Sporteology website.[1] Her open era singles career winning percentage of 91.37% (593–56) is unequalled, as is her open era winning percentage of 91.7% (11–1) in Grand Slam finals.[2] Her win-loss performance in all Grand Slam singles tournaments was 90.12% (210–23).

When she retired in 1977, she had won 192 career titles including 11 Australian Opens, 5 French Opens, 3 Wimbledon Titles and 5 U.S. Opens. She also competed and excelled in doubles and mixed doubles.

Court with the Wimbledon trophy. She has won more Tennis Grand Slams (3) than any other tennis player in history – men’s or women’s.

As you can read in this article from the Goal, success didn’t translate into contentment or happiness. In fact, she decided to retire.  She says ” I achieved every goal I had set but then I lost my desire to continue competing at the top level.”  She got married and then found her competitive fire again, returning to tennis and to her winning ways.  She had grown up in a Roman Catholic family and says “I praised God for this success, for I had always seen my tennis ability as a gift from God. However, in 1973, during a tournament in Paris, I realized that something was missing in my life – a closer relationship with God. I knew God was there and thought I must be able to know Him in a deeper way.

A short time later a friend gave me a book on becoming a Christian. I read it and soon after, I made the decision to become a Christian, accepting Jesus Christ as the Lord of my life.” She continued in tennis, but her new passion and desire was to know God more. So in 1976, she again retired from pro tennis.  She continues “At the end of 1976, I decided to retire from tennis and devote myself to looking after my family and getting to know more of Jesus. The next few years were a real struggle for me dealing with a heart condition, depression and insomnia but what got me through was total devotion to God and His word, the Bible. It gave me inner strength and brought healing to my body and mind. A verse that really kept me going is Galatians 2:20, “I have died but Christ now lives in me. And now I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave His life for me.”
In 1982, I went to Bible College and since then my goal has been to go out and share God’s Word with as many people as possible. I love to tell them how they can renew their lives and how they can overcome fear by really focusing on the Word of God” 

These days, Court is a Pastor at Victory Life Centre in Australia.  Here is a video of her sharing the importance of a life of faith and some parallels we can learn from the world of Sport to the guide our spiritual life.

Here are my takeaways from Court’s story:

Today, Rev. Dr. Margaret Court is the Pastor of Victory Life Centre in Australia. She d

1- Training the Mind

She talks about training the mind. Not focusing on losses in the past, but thinking about the current match and thinking about victory at the end of the match.  This has been a struggle for me in my life.  I find it so easy to focus on the negative and the defeats and failures that I have known.  But that is not how Christ sees us.  He doesn’t see us as failures, He sees us as he loved children and knows that the potential is in us to carry out the mission that He has called us to.  And with Him on our side, Victory is ours. He sets us free from the hard things that life brings our way, not by removing those hard things, but by showing that he is bigger than those things are, and that if we are with Him, we will know ultimate victory, too.

2 – Anonymous Champion

In one article I read,  Margaret Court referred to herself as an “Anonymous Champion”.  I will admit that I am a casual tennis fan – I don’t pay regular attention to tennis, but I tend to be aware of the top ranked players at any time  over the  course of my life.  And while Court played before my life began, with statistics and history like she has, as one of the best ever, I should have known about her – but  I had not heard of her until today.  To me she was anonymous. She had accomplished much, but so many people are not aware of what she had done.  The same is true about Jesus. He accomplished much – he came and lived a perfect life, he died in our place to pay for our sins. He did this for all people, and yet, many don’t know Him. It is our task to tell others about his exploits and the difference He has made in our life. Let’s share His love with the world.

Fight Night – Manny Pacquiao – Boxer – Philippines

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Pacquiao vs Mayweather – the biggest fight in boxing in years.

Tonight is the biggest night in many years for the sport of boxing.  In today’s sports tapestry that is so strongly focused on health and safety, concussions and injury, boxing is kind of caught in the middle.  But tonight, the sporting world is focused on the boxing ring again, with a battle between Floyd Mayweather, a perfect 47-0 in his career and Manny Pacquiao who has been a title holder at 8 different weights.  And while the boxers have both known great success in the ring, their public personas are at opposite ends of the spectrum.  Mayweather has a history of run-ins with the law over domestic abuse and battery.  Pacquiao, on the other hand, is beloved by his native Philippines.  He has been voted into public office as a congressman and serves as a reservist in the Filipino Military.

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Pacquiao is a congressman in his native Philippines

But Pacquiao’s clean public image has not always been his lot.  As you can read in this article from The Guardian,  Pacquiao was a partier.  He was “determined to squeeze as much fun from life as was available to someone who was born into grinding poverty.” But a few years ago things changed.  Despite being raised Catholic – the predominant religion of the Philippines, when his fame and success lifted him from the grips of poverty, it also blurred the lines between godly and being worldly.  But a few years ago, Pacquiao dedicated his life to Jesus and decided to use his platform to share about Christ’s love with others.  He says ”

I love my boxing, but I realize now that is not what my life is all about. I just want to encourage all those who are a Christian, to share their salvation experience to others.”
Check out this interview that Pacquiao did with Matt Crouch of TBN

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Pacquiao’s life has found purpose when he turned it over to Christ

Here are my takeaways from Pacquiao’s story.

1- Go into the World – The great commission given by Jesus to his followers was to go into all the world and make disciples of all people (Matthew 28.16-20).  In Acts 1.8, Jesus sends his disciples to be his witnesses to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth.  Now Samaria was the place of where the “enemy” lived.  Jews and Samaritans did not get along.  They had a strong dislike for each other, but still Jesus was sending his followers to share His love with their enemies, because He created them and loves them, too.  Boxing is the most mano a mano sport that exists.  It is a battle and it’s goal is to hurt your opponent more than they hurt you.  But Pacquiao sees his mission and understands it.  This following interview talks about how after the fight, he hopes for a chance to talk to Mayweather and “share his faith with him.” Even when talking about his enemy, he sees his mission to share God’s love with his opponent.  Check it out.

Manny Pacquiao

Pacquiao has known success in the ring, will tonight be his top achievement? Win on Lose, count on Manny giving glory to God.

2- Only God Satisfies–  What I heard in the above interview is Manny Pacquiao’s story has some similarities to what Paul wrote in Philippians 4.12.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Pair that thought together with Paul’s words from a chapter earlier (Phil 3. 7-.8) Paul writes “ But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ“.

Manny has known poverty that I will likely never know, and he has also known riches that I will likely never know.  But he talks about the emptiness that he felt in his life.  That is something that we all know if we have lived life without Christ.  He is all that satisfies.  He is our purpose and our passion.  He has given us the task of sharing His love with the world.  He has given us our story and our platform to share Him with others.  It is our choice to obey or not.  Pacquiao has chosen to share his faith in God every chance he gets.  I pray for courage and boldness to do the same.